Overlook The Looks

By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer

Just because you can discriminate, doesn't mean you should. Such is the case when hiring. In Canada, you can more or less choose people based on their looks.
Yes, in most cases it's legal to discriminate against "unattractive" applicants. Also the overweight, and severely short or tall. Not keen on tattoos? It's legal not to hire the body art crowd as well.
Astonishing as this may seem, it's true. But before you start asking candidates for photos on their resumes (rightly against the law to do so here), think about this: does a person's looks have any true bearing on how well they'll do the job. Or are you letting your prejudices get the better of you?
The Legalities of Discrimination Based On Looks
Employment lawyer Stuart Rudner is quoted on TheLawyersWeekly.ca saying "There is no legislation that prohibits discrimination based solely on appearance, and virtually no judicial consideration of the issue."
Rudner does add an important caution. "However, when the discrimination can be connected to a protected ground, then human rights legislation will apply." For example, B.C.'s Council of Human Rights found that a claimant was fired from a restaurant as a result of her acute acne, which was deemed to be a physical disability. 
Why "Looks Discrimination" Can Backfire
Even if you get away with it, there are arguments against hiring on the basis of appearance. Physical attributes matter if you run a fitness studio or modelling agency. For the majority of jobs they really don't.
Consider that young applicant with facial piercings. To you they may look like something out of Frankenstein. You're worried other staffers will be freaked out. But what about the creativity and free-spiritedness they represent. Could those traits be an asset to your firm?
The pretty receptionist would certainly be visually arresting. She'd better also be competent. Otherwise the best candidate might be someone more plain-looking, who conveys an image of efficiency and professionalism.
Heavyweight gals versus slim athletic types. Tall men with full heads of hair versus short balding ones. If you focus too much on attractiveness when hiring, you could get stuck with an office full of eye-catching poseurs instead of loyal, productive workers.
How To See Beyond An Applicant's Appearance
Granted that sometimes it's hard to overlook exteriors. Even the best and brightest candidate looks better when groomed and dressed well.
Here's where your judgment plays a critical role. Go back to first principles of hiring. Compare the person you're interviewing to the job description. Is in-person customer contact frequent? Could the candidate spiff themselves up a bit if you hired them and gave them some helpful suggestions? Is their appearance so distracting that it will take away from performance?
A candidate's track record should speak for itself. If you're seeking productivity and dedication, stick to attributes that measure such traits.
Keep in mind that if it's out-of-the-box thinking you want, the applicants you interview may not dress or act entirely traditionally. Sure they may stand out at first. However diversity may be exactly what's needed to stir things up at your company.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Stuart Rudner, a partner in Miller Thomson’s Labour & Employment Law Group, says "In most cases, appearance should be entirely irrelevant. In any event, appearance requirements should never be used for the sole purpose of excluding minorities or disadvantaged groups."
It is fitting to end this serious article on a humorous note. We leave you with an appropriate quote:
Bessie Braddock: "Sir, you are drunk."
Sir Winston Churchill: "And you, madam, are ugly. But in the morning, I shall be sober."
Curiously, Sir Churchill would today be sheltered from discrimination by Canadian human rights legislation. Alcoholism is a designated, protected category. As for Poor Ms. Braddock's appearance, no such luck. Though for all we know she was a star employee.