Hospital workers win right to show off tattoos

Ink and holes are welcome at the Ottawa Hospital.

So says an arbitrator who ruled in favour of the union Monday, striking down the hospital’s revised dress code banning excessive body piercings and tattoos.

“…Aside from the personal opinions of its senior managers, the hospital has provided no evidence for its rationale that there is a link between health care outcomes and the new rules it has imposed,” Lorne Slotnick wrote in the award, obtained by the Sun.

“It is hard not to conclude that the hospital has attempted to fix a problem that does not exist,” Slotnick continued, declaring the policy void and unenforceable.

“It’s a big win for staff,” said Rob Driskell, executive chief steward with CUPE Local 4000, whose arms are covered with tattoos.

The union filed a grievance against the hospital’s revised dress code policy, implemented in March 2011.

Large, visible tattoos had to be covered while staff were on-shift.

Small or discreet tattoos and piercings were allowed if they measured up to health and safety guidelines.

And effective a few months later, another guideline kicked in requiring nursing staff to wear lab coats even when out of their units and on breaks.

CUPE represents registered practical nurses, or RPNs.

The union argued the policy unreasonably infringed on employees’ rights to “express themselves in their appearance, unjustified by any health or sanitation concerns, or any complaints by patients,” reads the award.

Professionalism was the issue for hospital management, arguing some patients were put off by health care providers sporting tattoos and piercings and would be spared anxiety.

The hospital also argued nursing staff, even on breaks, should be identifiable anywhere in the hospital.

Excluding doctors, TOH has 12,000 employees, and admits more than 45,000 patients each year.

During a hearing, the union stated there was no issue with concealing a hateful or offensive tattoo.

The main objection to the dress code was “the attempt by the hospital to impose its own view of a professional image on all its employees.”

Nine union witnesses testified — agreeing the well-being of patients was their top priority — but also making it clear body art was a “significant part of their identity.”

All stated the policy was inconsistently enforced by management.

Slotnick ruled this practice would “almost inevitably continue — and lead to further litigation — if the policy remains in force.”

He also sided in favour of the nurses, calling the lab coat requirements unreasonable.

The hospital respects the ruling, said spokeswoman Allison Neill.

“We will continue to ensure that employees are professionally dressed and identifiable to our patients in order to meet our goal to provide the world class care, exceptional service and compassion that we would want for our loved ones,” said Neill.

Twitter: @ottawasunkroche

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