Job-seekers claim looks discrimination

19:27, Feb 16 2014
Maya Croll-Wright
WRONG PACKAGE: Maya Croll-Wright, 19, believes that the way she looks, rather than who she is, is playing against her in the quest for a job.

Maya Croll-Wright, 19, has several years of experience in hospitality, strong motivation and an outgoing personality. Yet, she struggles to find a job. Why? She has tattoos, blue hair and describes herself as overweight.

"I have had countless job interviews after applying for every job I can find. But as soon as they see me in person, it all goes downhill."

In the past two months, Croll-Wright says she had about 20 interviews for jobs in cafes, shops and restaurants around Christchurch. She has been rejected from every one.

On the phone, employers are enthusiastic, she says. But when the interview comes "they look me up and down". Some told her she was "not conservative enough", others asked whether she understood nutrition.

Another young woman, who asked not to be named, has solid experience in hospitality and management.

The 21-year-old describes herself as overweight, with tattoos and bright purple hair.


She has been looking for a part-time job to finance her studies for the past two months and had about five interviews in shops and hospitality outlets.

"All of them pretty much said they were happy to hire me as long as I dyed my hair."

But she says she would like to keep her hair colour because she does a bit of plus-size modelling "and my purple hair shows up really nicely in the photographs".

She says she will keep looking for a job that allows her to keep her style, but might end up dyeing it if she does not find anything.

But is it legal for employer to discriminate against prospective employees because they have blue hair and tattoos?

Taylor Shaw partner and employment law specialist Kathryn Dalziel says yes.

"Employers can discriminate on weight, colour of hair and visibility of tattoos."

The answer is less clear when it comes to cultural tattoos, she says.

Air New Zealand last year refused to hire a woman who had a traditional Maori tattoo on her forearm.

"She was told to wear long-sleeved shirts to cover it up and that was held to be discriminatory conduct by the Human Rights Tribunal," Dalziel says.

Discrimination based on weight has so far not been considered a breach, but could be considered a cultural or a health issue, she says.

In general, as long as the discrimination is not based on gender, race, colour or ethnicity, it does not breach any laws.

"If you want to brand your business, you can prefer the better-looking."

Burger Fuel Christchurch franchise co-owner Malte Herzhoff says he checks potential employees' fingernails. Tattoos and being overweight, however, are "absolutely fine with us".

"A lot of our employees have visible tattoos. They are young people and the tattoos have meaning to them.

"It's more about the attitude than appearance. What I might find attractive, my customers won't find attractive. I'm not the one to judge that."

A Christchurch cafe owner, who asked not to be named, says candidates need to present well.

He says weight is not an issue, but tattoos can make him uneasy.

"It's not a black and white thing. If they have tattoos from their fingers all the way up their arms, it's not great presentation for me."

The Press