Due to recent negative reactions to an op-ed I wrote for the local paper regarding widespread discrimination against bodily-modified individuals in the workplace and my recent rejection of a job offer due to the potential new employer’s policy on visible tattoos and piercings, I’m now going to write a defense in favor of introducing a legally protected class for those with body modifications.
I can see the main objection now: “Body modifications are a choice and therefore should not be protected.” The fact of the matter is that most states currently establish smokers as a protected class. That is, employers cannot refuse to hire someone solely based upon the fact that the person is a smoker. Smoking is 100% a lifestyle choice, yet it is correctly listed as a protected class. I fully support protecting smokers (and tobacco users in general) as tobacco use is not an accurate representation of the quality of work the potential employee could deliver to the table.
In the same way, body modifications are not an accurate representation of the qualifications of an individual or his/her quality of work. The reality is that there are blank canvases who are qualified for little more than working at a gas station and heavily modified individuals who work at the highest level of STEM fields and are world-renowned for their research or results. I can guarantee you that you aren’t going to care whether or not your doctor is body modified if you are in a life-or-death situation. Think about and chew on that.
In addition to the above, it would probably be illegal to discriminate against someone who has just plain old scars or other anomalies on his/her body. Although these anomalies can be a result of medical conditions beyond one’s control (which then it WOULD be illegal to discriminate), many of them are the result of life or other choices that caused injuries (case in point – I have a scar above my left eyebrow because of my own sheer stupidity, yet to be turned away for a job based upon that is probably not legal).
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that certain body modifications are rites of passage in some religions or cultural practices. As it is already illegal to discriminate based upon religion and courts have continuously upheld the mandate that employers accommodate religious articles of clothing, long hair, etc.; it only makes sense for body mods to be covered under freedom of religion.
Due to the fact that some life choices are already protected classes and that these life choices do not impact an individual’s quality of work, it thus makes sense to introduce protected classes in order to defend the rights of individuals who engage in these activities. Since it is also illegal to discriminate due to anomalies in appearance already (probably under the ADA) and expressions of religion, it only makes sense to extend protection to those with body modifications. It therefore should not be permissible for employers to force employees to cover tattoos, remove piercings, etc. unless one of two conditions are met: 1) the work uniform already covers them up and no “special” clothing would be required and/or 2) piercing rings would be an occupational hazard and need to be removed for safety. Other than these two situations, there is no legitimate reason to disallow body modifications in the workplace and thus bodily modified individuals should be a protected class.