A 21 year old woman applying for work as an airline flight
attendant was told she was suitable for the job but then the
interviewer noticed she had a small tattoo of an anchor on her
She was told she could not be employed as the airline had a
no-tattoo policy. She could come back if she had it removed. Was
the airline legally in the right?
Can an employee be sacked legally if they arrive at work proudly
displaying a brand new tattoo?
Nowadays one in seven Australians has a tattoo, according to the
National Health and Medical Research Council.
Is it work discrimination to act against a person with a tattoo?
What if the tattoo is hidden under long sleeves or long pants?
What if the tattoo is on the neck or face and can't be
What about facial piercings?
Lawyer Nathan Luke, an expert in workplace law at Stack s Law
Firm, says there is no law protecting an employee from being sacked
if they turn up with a new tattoo, a metal bar in their nose or
"If you work in a place where such things are accepted then
fine, but it's up to the employer.
"There is no law preventing employers banning tattoos in
the workplace, or sacking someone who suddenly turns up with
one," Mr Luke said.
"Employers are entitled to demand a certain standard of
appearance from their staff to maintain the company image.
"So long as employers make their expectations on appearance
at work clear to employees before they accept the job, preferably
in writing, then the law is usually on their side."
Mr Luke says it's wise for companies to get legal advice on
how best to formulate this policy to avoid potential claims of
unfair dismissal. If a firm doesn't have a declared policy,
then the employee could claim they didn't know tattoos were a
It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an
employee – or prospective employee –on the basis of
race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental
disability, marital status, family or carer's responsibilities,
pregnancy, religion, political opinion, ethnic, national or social
"If a person has a tattoo for religious, ethnic or cultural
reasons, such as a Pacific Islander or Maori, it could count as
discrimination to reject them from a job because of the tattoo. In
that case the law may be able to assist them," Mr Luke
"However it needs a person with specialist experience in
workplace law as each case has its own individual
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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