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Equal Employment Opportunity and Body Modification
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was brought to fruition by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) to ensure that potential employees could not be discriminated against. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, and genetic information, as well as disabled, recently separated, other protected, and armed forces service medal veterans. These bases apply to hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, benefits, training, classification, and referral in the workplace.
But is something missing?
Despite seeming covering all bases, the EEO misses one important, popular trait: body modification. An estimated 14% of Americans have a tattoo; 36% of 18-25 year olds and 40% of 26-40 year olds (the primary age groups seeking employment) are tattooed. Also, 14% of Americans have a piercing other than their ear lobes, with the majority of those being facial piercings.
Innate vs Acquired
When speaking of body modification in regards to discrimination, the point arises that people choose to modify themselves and it is their responsibility to consider the consequences. Many people feel that an innate trait, or one acquired against one’s will, deserves to be protected from prejudice, while a willingly acquired one does not merit the same action.
You must then, however, consider the other side. Should a qualified, responsible, ideal candidate be rejected a job for the sole reason of having body modifications? Certainly the job position itself plays a role in this decision, and therefore there is no clear answer. For example, a general labor job may be more flexible with modifications than a customer service position. Regardless, some groups are still looking to get modifications covered by the EEO and a quick Google search will find many petitions attempting to do so.
Church of Body Modification
The Church of Body Modification is one group pushing to criminalize the discrimination of people with piercings and tattoos. Their vision statement reads:
As members of this Church, we envision living in a society where we are seen as an asset to our community, treated as equal to any non-modified person. We conceive of a time where we may practice our rituals and body modification without prejudice or discrimination. By acting responsibly and with integrity, we wish to observe our sincerely held religious beliefs without restriction.
The CBM states that they believe in and practice spiritual body modification. The problem with this is that it could be argued that members join the church in order to have their modifications covered under the religious base of the EEO.
The Question of Content
An important issue that must be considered, particularly in regards to tattoos, is the content of the piece in question. For example, I know of a woman who works as an elementary school teacher. She has a small tattoo of a star on her wrist and the administration has no objections to it. However, if the tattoo were of something else, or even if she lived in a culture where a star has a deeper meaning, the tattoo may not be acceptable.
Can there be a correct answer?
Ultimately the issue comes to personal preference and opinion. Some employers may be accepting of modifications, some may not. Some customers/clients may be accepting and some may not. This is a hotbed issue that may never be solved, because there is no solution that will please everyone.
I have tried to remain unbiased while writing this piece, because despite have tattoos and piercings myself, I am unsure how I feel about this topic. I would love to hear the opinions of others so please share them in the comments.