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Physical Appearance & Your Workplace

When it comes to understanding the weight of physical appearance in the workplace, two very important questions must be answered: ‘Do looks matter in the workplace?’ and ‘Should looks matter in the workplace?’

There are many different physical characteristics that distinguish people such as height, weight, gender, race, hair colour, tattoos, piercing, etc. And although there are laws put in place to protect employees from overt discrimination, workers are often judged based on these physical traits.

We’re all more-or-less aware of the discrimination that can occur based on gender, age, disability and race. But how often do we hear about discrimination in the workplace based on height or weight?

A study took place at the University of Florida to determine if a person’s height had a correlation with their salary. The study revealed that a taller worker earns approximately $789 per year for every inch of height, meaning that a worker that is 6’4 can expect to earn approximately $5,000 more per year than a worker that is 5’8. Seems absurd, doesn’t it? We couldn’t agree more!

Research has also shown that overweight workers get paid significantly less than workers who are considered an average weight. This wage discrepancy is even larger for female workers.

Recent studies have proven that in addition to height and weight, overall physical attractiveness is a factor for many employers in the hiring process. This has shown to be a far bigger issue for women than for men, as women who are considered ‘too pretty’ are often faced with discrimination when applying for jobs that are seen as masculine.

Where things get complicated is when it comes to tattoos, piercings, eccentric hair colours, etc. This is the one area where employers are technically ‘allowed’ to make judgement calls. By law, employers are permitted to set appearance policies in place, and are free to not to hire based on any visible tattoos or piercings. The only exception is if the appearance is part of an ethnic or religious custom.

Unionized employees do, however, have a bit more say as far as physical appearance rules go, and are able to hold employers to the following standards:

  • Rules must not be inconsistent with the collective agreement;
  • Rules must not be unreasonable;
  • Rules must be clear and unequivocal;
  • Rules must be brought to the attention of the employee affected before the employer can act upon it;
  • The employee concerned must have been notified that a breach of such rule could result in his/her discharge if the rule is used as a foundation for discharge; and
  • Such rule should have been consistently enforced by the employer from the time it was introduced.

So, do looks matter in the workplace? Yes, oftentimes they do. Should looks matter in the workplace? Certainly not!

Teamsters 987 stands for fairness, and we believe that treatment should not be tied to how someone looks, how old someone is, how healthy someone is or where someone comes from. All workers deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, and a worker’s performance should always be the primary basis for judgement, not their physical appearance. We, your union family, will always fight against discrimination. If you think discrimination may be happening in your workplace, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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