Friday, December 3, 2021



Volume: 954                       December 4, 2021


Can employers refuse to hire the heavily tattooed and pierced?

In this country its illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, and sexual identity.  Overall, this is a good thing.  Folks who refuse services or opportunities based on these criteria are reprehensible and, for the most part, we would agree that it’s a bad thing.

What about the heavily tattooed and pierced among us?  There is a growing population which have felt the need to tattoo themselves, pierce themselves, and otherwise mutilate their bodies.  The psychology behind this is complicated, and so are those who do this to themselves.

Here’s the question.  Does anyone have the right to refuse service, employment, membership or access based on physical appearance?  It’s one thing to apply for a job for which you are professionally qualified, but what if your tattooed face, neck, hands, or other exposed parts of the body are suspected as reason not to hire?  What if a restaurant owner says, “I can’t use you as a server because your piercings / tattoos upset customers?  It’s one thing when you are in a job that doesn’t require customer contact, but an entirely different thing when you are in constant contact with customers.

Recently, I went into a warehouse to pick out a pallet of supplies for construction of my new production facility.  I met the young man running the forklift and he guiding me through the myriad choices in the warehouse.  He was wearing short sleeves and had both arms heavily tattooed.  In fact, he had what are called ‘full sleeves’.  His ear lobes had been stretched to accommodate large porcelain rings called ‘gauges’ and he had a piercing through the bridge of his nose.  The minute he talked, I saw that he his tongue was also pierced.

I was a little taken aback as I’m still adjusting to the “Tattooing of America” and the increased acceptance of this self-mutilation.  However, and in his own defence, he rarely has direct contact with the public.  And that’s for good reason too!  I would probably hire someone like him to work in the warehouse if he showed qualification, loyalty, and experience.  Why not?  However, would I hire him to work in sales or direct customer-contact service?  No chance in Hell!

Call me old fashioned, call me puritanical, but there are far too many people who find looking upon such mutilation disturbing.  I especially don’t want this when I am eating!  When a waitress with full sleeves and face piercings comes to my table I immediately lose my appetite!  I am paying not only for food, but ambience and atmosphere.  Any restaurateur or chef will tell you that the ambience [atmosphere] is the greater part of the dining experience.

Whenever I run across mutilated people I am uncomfortable at best and repulsed at worst, depending on the extent of their self-mutilation.  I admit to the culture-shock of returning to America after decades in the Orient, where such mutilation is unacceptable and rather uncommon.  I admit to shock at the “Tattooing of America” and the “Piercing of America” as I didn’t have the 25 odd years to gradually adjust to it.  I came upon it literally, all at once.  Shock of shocks!

Now that I’ve laid the groundwork for this discussion, let’s revisit the original question, “Is it legal to discriminate against someone because of their tattoos or piercings?

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There are, at the time of this article, no laws prohibiting discrimination based on physical appearance.  Meanwhile, there are small groups lobbying to make those with tattoos and piercings [also known as ‘body art] a ‘protected class’ which would open the door to mandatory hiring of the voluntarily deformed.  I spoke with D. Anderson Moulton, J.D., a constitutional law professor on this matter.  His comments proved most enlightening.

He says, “In the eyes of general opinion, ‘body art’ is disturbing to most people.  This holds true with the general population at large.  In positions where a person comes into direct contact with others, especially customers, it is understandable that an employer would not want to hire such an individual.”

He goes on to say, “The efforts to award ‘protected class’ status to those with body art are going nowhere at present.  It’s so subjective in matters of taste and preference as to be nearly impossible to legislate let alone prosecute.  I don’t foresee such legislation becoming law in the near or even distant future.”

So, it would appear that I’m not so far ‘out of touch’ as I had suspected earlier, but in fact have a fresher and more enlightened view of this ‘body art’ phenomenon due to my decades of isolation from this trend.  Most people in the west, especially Americans, have been the proverbial frogs in the pot, where this came upon them so slowly they hardly noticed it until society at large had been boiled alive in the bubbling pot of ‘body art’.

I’m Max, and that’s the way I see it!

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