Q&A - Surely my employer cannot sack me because I have tattoos?

Q: I started a new job as a receptionist at a beauty salon last November and was given a long-sleeved winter and short-sleeved summer uniform to wear. The job was going well until the Christmas ‘do' when I wore a strappy dress and the boss saw the tattoos I have on my arms.

After the ‘do' she called me into her office and said she was giving me a month's notice to leave as she hadn't realised I had tattoos when she hired me. She said she could not have me sitting on the reception desk in the summer wearing a short-sleeved uniform as her clients might be offended by my tattoos. I said ‘my tattoos are part of my personality'. She said ‘my clients are part of my future'. Surely sacking me for having tattoos is discrimination?

A:  Firstly, discrimination law applies only to matters concerning sex, race, nationality, religion or belief and sexual orientation. It does not apply to fashion, which is what a tattoo would be classed as. But that aside, if you have only been in the job a few months you would not be entitled to claim against your employer.

From the employer's perspective, provided they are not contravening discrimination legislation by, for example, refusing to allow a dress code required by an employee's religion, they have the right to expect a level of appearance in the best interests of the business.

When you work behind her reception desk you are representing your employer and she would argue that you are being paid to reflect her values to existing and potential customers looking to engage her services. If you really want to keep your job you might try negotiating with the salon owner to see if she will let you wear long sleeves in the summer.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams

Partner and Complaints Handler

Partner and Head of the Civil Litigation, Personal Injury and Dispute Resolution team in Wrexham