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Ottawa Hospital can’t force nurses to hide tattoos, piercings

January 14, 2013

Arbitrator Lorne Slotnick has held that the Ottawa Hospital’s new dress code, which requires employees to cover large tattoos and remove “excessive” body piercings is unreasonable and cannot be enforced.

The arbitrator held that the new policy attempted to solve a problem that did not exist. Other longstanding policies ensured that health and safety and sanitation issues were addressed, and there was no evidence that patients were concerned about employees with tattoos or body piercings. Indeed, the arbitrator found that the sight of tattoos and piercings was “virtually undetectable among patient concerns”.

Most importantly, there was no evidence whatsoever to support the hospital’s assertion that there might be a connection between patients who were uncomfortable with tattoos or piercings and health care outcomes.

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In its story on the case, The National Post spoke to Peter Engelmann, who represented the union:

Peter Engelmann, CUPE’s lawyer, said he is not aware of any hospital in the country that has imposed similar restrictions on its employees, though Nova Scotia mandated in 2011 that all nurses wear plain, black-and-white uniforms. The Ottawa code was all about creating a corporate identity, though it was imposed unevenly, with doctors generally left free to dress how they wished in a sort of “class system,” he argued.

“There was a suggestion that this is the worst day of these patients’ lives, they’re in the hospital, the last thing they want to do is see this person with a tattoo,” said Mr. Engelmann. “You can imagine the slippery slope that could lead to: … ‘I don’t want this someone to wait on me because I don’t like the colour of his or her skin.’ ”


Peter Engelmann

Practice Areas

Labour Law