Human rights and discrimination in Canada have come a long way. The BC Human Rights Code states that an employer cannot discriminate against an employee or prospective employee because of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, or a criminal conviction that is unrelated to the employment or to the intended employment of that person.
But what if employers consider an employee ‘ugly’?
Maybe ugliness is considered intentional by way of excessive tattoos, facial piercings and those big corks people put in their ears. Perhaps ugliness is unintentional. In any event, if a prospective employer does not hire you and states that it’s because you are ugly, is that a form of discrimination? The short answer is “no.”
In Canada and British Columbia, there is no legislative prohibition against not hiring a person based on appearance alone. Moreover, potential legal action on behalf of the unattractive could be very complicated. One complication is that ugly people usually do not identify as such. There are no, or perhaps very few, ugly people groups, associations or clubs. Unlike other groups of people such as men, women or Catholics, ugly people have a problem identifying as ugly.
Another complication is that people, being diverse and unique individuals, perceive beauty and ugliness differently. Our society places an undeniable emphasis on the value of physical beauty. We commonly associate physical traits with perceived correlating qualities or characteristics. Attractiveness is perceived to correspond with attributes such as virtue, integrity, intelligence, sensitivity, kindness, and honesty, whereas ugliness or obesity corresponds with perceptions of laziness, lack of discipline, incompetence, lack of productivity, and slovenliness. This attribution process is legally and socially acceptable.
Employers use appearance traits as indicators of employee worth or qualification. In fact, from an economic perspective, some argue appearance is a valid indicator of productivity, to the extent that productivity is measured by personal, customer, or co-worker satisfaction. Employers generally retain discretion to consider whatever factors they deem important in their employment decisions. Employers routinely acknowledge the importance of an attractive appearance in employee selection. Given the immediate visibility of physical attributes, grooming, and attire, one’s appearance often constitutes an employer’s first impression of an applicant’s employability.
Further, an employer can regulate and/or prohibit, as a term of the employment, dress codes, grooming standards, hair length, hairstyle, uniforms, jewellery, and visibility of body piercings and tattoos, and an employer can regulate other appearance-based requirements, unless such regulation is in contravention of the BC Human Rights Code and is based on one of the prohibited discriminatory grounds.
In sum, unless you can connect your looks with your race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, or a criminal conviction that is unrelated to the employment as a basis of the discrimination, then you may be discriminated against based on your looks. Often, people who are overweight will commence a claim regarding a breach of the Human Rights Code based on “disability.” Perhaps one could even argue that ugliness is a physical disability; however, you would then have to admit you’re ugly, which no one wants to do.The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.