A bill before the New York City Council would outlaw discriminating against people with tattoos in the workplace, signing a lease or seeking access to public services.
Councilmember Shaun Abreu, the bill’s lead sponsor, called tattoos a form of personal self-expression that often incur bias and discrimination from employers, landlords and service providers.
“We don’t need any artificial barriers to getting jobs or housing,” said Abreu, who plans to introduce the legislation to the City Council on Friday.
The bill would add “tattoo” to the list of categories in the city’s administrative code that are already prohibited from discrimination, such as race, sexual orientation, gender and age. It would still allow bosses to require their employees to cover a tattoo if it is a necessary condition for the job. However, employers would have the responsibility of proving that the absence of a tattoo is necessary and that there is “no less discriminatory means of satisfying the occupational qualification.”
There are exceptions though, such as with tattoos that contain hate speech or “vulgarity,” as determined by the City Human Rights Commission, according to Abreu.
This legislation adds to a similar bill introduced last spring that aims to codify prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s height or weight in employment, housing and access to public services. But the measure has not moved out of committee since it was introduced in April.
Councilmembers Justin Brannan, Nantasha Williams and Kevin Riley are also sponsors of the bill that would prohibit discrimination against people with tattoos.
Brannan, who has many tattoos of his own, said he acquired some of his first tattoos in the 1990s, a time when tattooing in New York City was still illegal.
“I think there was a time when people saw tattoos as the mark of an outlaw, but I think those days are long gone,” he said. “I’m probably the most tattooed politician that I know of.”
Brannan said he was told by multiple people that he could never be elected to public office because of his tattoos, or that he would have to hide them to win. He was elected to office in 2017 to represent a part of Brooklyn.
“Tattoos signify individual expression. I sure hope I’m stating the obvious when I say it’s long past time we put this protection into law,” he said.