Three unionized employees at the Ottawa Convention Centre, or OCC, say they were locked out of the building on Thursday without pay after showing up to work with the tattoos on their arms uncovered.
Daniel Caissie and Johnny St-Amour both move equipment, such as tables, chairs and stages. Nyeme Williams, the other employee, works as a housekeeper at the convention centre.
Caissie and St-Amour say it's too hot in the summer to do their physically demanding jobs with their uniform shirt with an undershirt that has long sleeves to cover the tattoos.
"It took a long time for me to realize the actual psychological effects it was having on me," Caissie said.
"I realized ... that it was actually affecting my self esteem because it was making me feel — even outside of work — kind of ashamed about the fact that I have tattoos.
"And there's really actually nothing wrong with it. In fact there's nothing offensive on any of my tattoos, there's nothing lewd or slanderous or derogatory or any of that. So the only thing that could offend anybody, actually, is just the fact that I have them," he said. "And so the policy is purely based on prejudice and not on anything factual or real."
St-Amour calls it "discrimination."
"They should leave us alone. Tattoos are body art; that's it," he said. "I would love to be able to go back to work and just be comfortable."
'We want to ... project a proper image,' OCC spokesman says
OCC's marketing manager, Daniel Coates, said the policy is part of the conditions of employment, and that the employees were asked not to work on the floor until they adhere to those conditions.
"It is very specifically stated that any visible tattoos have to be covered up when on the floor," Coates said. "And it's a question of image and public service. We serve the public, and we want to make sure that we project a proper image."
He said the OCC is kept at an industry standard 22 degrees Celsius, and that it's therefore not an uncomfortable environment to work in.
Gilles LeVasseur, a business law professor at the University of Ottawa, said workers can file grievances when collective agreements are in place. He also said the case is a human rights issue as opposed to a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms issue.