Can employers discriminate against you based on having tattoos?

Question Details: I had a job interview for a position at a supermarket deli - I'm convinced I didn't get the job as I have tattoos across both forearms. Are they allowed to use that as a basis for denying me the job?

Filed under Human Rights and Discrimination | 3996 View(s)

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Answers by Lawyers

Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley

The law in this area is still developing and is not entirely clear. It could possibly be viewed as discrimination if you have your tattoos for religious or cultural reasons.

Tattoos are not a ground for unlawful discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993 (discrimination on the grounds of age, sex etc is). However, not being hired on the basis of a cultural/ religious tattoo (such as a moko) may be indirect discrimination, because it could be discriminating against a racial group or a religious group. The law in this area is still developing and is not entirely clear.

In a case taken to the Human Rights Review Tribunal in 2011, a woman claimed that she had been discriminated against by being asked to wear a top that covered a moko on her arm. The case for indirect discrimination failed because of what you could say was a technical reason. (There was no evidence given about the number of Māori who would be offended by being asked to cover up. It was also not accepted that non-Māori would not experience detriment. The case was dismissed case because of the lack of evidence of indirect discrimination.)

In your case, if you have no evidence to show that you were discriminated against because of your tattoos, it may be difficult to establish that you weren’t hired because of your tattoos. You can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission if you fit under one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Human Rights Act. If they believe your complaint looks like unlawful discrimination, one of their mediators will get in touch.

Answered 23 Jul 2012. The IMPORTANT NOTICE below is part of this answer.

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