Tattoos and Piercings in the Workplace

Posted on February 12, 2009. Filed under: American culture, business, diversity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Like them or not, tattoos and piercings are here to stay. While they hold a certain stigma for Baby Boomers, their popularity exploded in the 1990s as a common expression of individuality among younger generations. How should employers deal with this trend, and what legal rights does each party have?

Who has them?
Among 18- to 50-year-olds, 24% have tattoos and 14% have body piercings (other than ears), according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Among Gen Y (18-to 29-year-olds) 48% have either a tattoo or piercing. Clearly, it is impractical, and nearly impossible, to have a workforce free of tattoos and/or piercings.

What are an employer’s rights?
Tattoos and body piercing are gaining increasing acceptance, but employers have a right to ban their workers from showing them. An employer has the right to set a dress standard for the company, as long as it doesn’t violate discrimination laws, which only protect employees from discrimination based on age, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sex. A discrimination lawsuit brought by a Costco cashier stated that she was a member Church of Body Modifications and that her 11 piercings were a form of religious expression. The court sided with Costco.

Although employers may be legally permitted to ban them, it is not always in their best interest. An employee who feels accepted and is allowed to express her individuality is more likely to be a dedicated worker.

What should an employer do?
Have a written policy on tattoos and piercings. Create a policy and be sure to communicate it. It is important to be consistent. The policy has to be applied uniformly and to all employees, or that may be a form of discrimination.

2. Try to get buy in from the employees, rather than making unilateral directives. Discuss audience awareness with the employee. How, when and why might it affect interactions at work? Perhaps it is ok to show your body art around the office, but not so when meeting with a new client for the first time.

3. Consider the impact on coworkers or clients. Does the tattoo distract or harass others? Tattoos that create a hostile work environment should be banned. A Winnie the Pooh on your ankle? OK. Swastika on your neck? Not OK.

4. Get over it. As an employer, it is important to ask yourself what, specifically, you are opposed to. If it is just that you personally don’t like tattoos or piercings, is that a valid reason not to hire someone? Are you letting skilled workers get away because of their body art?

What do you think of  showing body art in the workplace?

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10 Responses to “Tattoos and Piercings in the Workplace”

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I would have to agree with you in regards to the thought process on tattoos and piercings. My question to my previous employees is does this reflect the level of professionalism you are working to gain from your clients. If you have tattoos and/or piercings that affect your ability to do your job then they might be best kept covered or adjustments made to your career. An important point of consideration is the population or generation of your clients, for example, if you work with primarily seniors then have tattoos or piercings are not necessarily appropriate in their eyes so keep them covered. As my great-grandmother once pointed out that although the individual may be extremely nice they might scare her if they show up to fix her washer if they are covered in tattoos and piercings. My personal opinion is that just as our dress, our hair style, the car we drive, tattoos and piercings are an expression of who we are as individuals. When searching for a career path you need to make sure that it is in following to your personality and fits to who you are as an individual.

For business owners and/or management, it is important to think about the type of individual you want to recruit for your organization. You must match your organization to your clients as well as your employees. Also, be upfront with prospective employees about your company culture as well as ensure that you are being consistent with all employees. Although it is an owners or managements decision on policies, we must be mindful that great people come in all forms.

I see them as personal artistic expressions. Gone are the days when only Hell’s Angels sported body art all over. I believe that an organization that has policies against body piercings and tattoos is a company that is stuck in the past and has no hope of attracting diverse, innovative talent.

Individuals/employees have a desire to both express themselves and be successful employees. Both of these qualities can be balanced and can be a productive relationship for both the employer and employee. However when one is not getting their needs met, example “not enough recognition for work, not enough action on the job, not enough time to have fun while working and so on,” people will discontinue getting their needs met in positive ways (productivity) and get their needs met in negative ways. An example of this is the employee who has tattoos and is a great employee and who is now not believing that he or she is getting accepted personally in the work environment or acknowledged for the work they are doing. So they change from having the tattoos and doing their job to getting new tattoos that bring attention to themselves and away from the job. When they do this it is not about the tattoo, it is about not getting the need of acknowledgement and acceptance at work. Solution: make sure that your employees are getting their individual needs met: ask them. And, avoid blanket policies. If you find yourself trying to control piercings, tattoos or dress, what you are trying to control is not what the presenting issue is about.

When I was a teenager and in my early 20’s the rage (at least for men) was long hair. Today for young people it’s piercings and tattoos. I was also in the Navy and of course alot of guys got tattoos and back then there were a few Chiefs (career Navy) with forearms full of them. Today tattoos still have a somewhat of negative stigma as it dwells up negative stereotype perceptions of a bad thing like Hell’s Angel bikers or prisoners which today is not the case – and there are very good people that ride motorcycles and many people in prison have turned thier life around to a more positive direction like finding religion. However as the saying goes ‘all things in moderation…’. I think a heart or flower tatoo on a woman is sexy. Alot of women get a ‘tramp stamp’ just above thier butt in the small of thier back which most to me seem ‘tastefull’. Young men seem to favor a design that horizontal across thier upper arm orignally done by Maori tribes in New Zeland to identify thier warriors. I also think the peicings like a few extra on the ear lobe or a diamond in the nostril is also sexy on women but look frankly ‘stupid’ on men. Having made the statements above, I’ve also been in he position to interview people for professional positions and can stay that any visible tattoos that may be offensive or and little ‘spikes’ that have a socket surgically implanted so they can be screwed in and out is simply not acceptable in the normal business environment and especially in positions that deal directly with the public. Too much is too much and people that have endeavored to adorn themseleves permentently with numerious tattoos and poercings should stop and think about the consequences especially when they get older and the imortanc of the tattoos fade over time. There’s a big business in tattoo removal too. Body art and piercings is a personal choice and where I respect everyone’s right to do what they want with thier body unfortunately that does not directly translate into acceptance by all in the workplace. There’s also a difference as when I was young and had ‘long hair’ to change it was a haircut which the Navy obliged me the first day of boot camp. You can’t do the same with Tattoos and for the most part piercings. JGH

are we running out of people to discriminate against? i’m thinking that when it comes to hiring a person we should let talent be our guide, not fashion. you know judging people by the content of thier character and what not. Tto do otherwise is to discriminate.

Your skin should be like a uniform, if your work place requires a certain dress code than your skin should fit that code.

This is an unusually sensible and balanced article on body modification in the workplace; thank you.

I am just beginning my career as a faculty member of a Med School. Our students are evaluated on their “professional appearance and behavior” in several exams. So I have started wondering: Are long hair, multiple piercings or tattoos automatically unprofessional? My boss is known around the world for teaching professionalism in medical schools. I asked her for her thoughts on body modification. She said that most of the faculty and advisors in med programs in the US are of an older generation where tattoos were primarily found on “military or blue collar” folks only. Professionals did not have tattoos or long hair. I agree that the current generation of students is much more likely to have some kind of body mod. With the majority having a body mod, does that mean that they will not be able to practice medicine once they graduate? I think it is going to take at least another generation before body mods are no longer considered “unprofessional”. I do have students that ask “Should I wear long sleeves to cover my tattoos during the exam?” I tell them that it is up to them, but that they need to consider the people that will be giving the critiques.
If your review board is made up of people that are in their 60s and 70s, I would probably cover up. If the board consists largely of new residency student that are in their late 20s, the tattoos may not be such a big deal. Of course, there is always the added issue of the content of the body mod: a tattoo of a religious symbol on your forearm may be more accepted than a skull and dagger in the same place. (although the skull and dagger on a physician is kinda funny to me). If your company approves a cross on someone’s forearm, the skull and daggers should also be acceptable. Who has the responsibility of saying what is acceptable or not? And is the policy consistent throughout the organization.

Although the only tattoo I have is on my 2nd toe and is smaller than a dime, I do consider my wardrobe when I get ready for work. It is totally different than if I were being a medic in the field or at my son’s rugby match. It’s a very tight rope we are crossing at the moment. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

As a person that has a tatoo on my right arm of a rose and a tongue piercing, I have came to the conclusion that these things are just part of society. I work for a fast food restaurant that frowns upon body art and makes their employees cover it up. These type of employers however do not take under consideration that the employees are hard workers and will do anything for the company. With body piercings, my employer makes their employees take them out when on the floor. This to me can leed to even more serious health risks with the repeated removing of jewlry and the risk of a fresh piercing healing shut. If you have a nice tongue ring that you want to wear to a dinner party at night and your employer made you take out your tongue ring for work for the first time. the hole will heal shut and you can no longer wear that nice tongue ring. These actions by employers to me are a violation of the first amendment of the constitution. Our bodies are our own, not our employers. We have to wear uniforms to identify that we work for the employer. In my case it is a shirt with cars on it and black slacks. This should be where the employers reach should stop and the employees right to show their body art and piercings should start. I know image is everything but when customers come in with worse tattos than the employees have the employers should relax these strict rules. I myself have improved my body imensly since getting my tongue ring. I never brushed my teeth and everyone was complaining about it. Now with it in I brush in the morning and at night. I also bit my fingernails and toenails to the quick. Now I am trying to adjust to having long nails to the point of healing from an ingrown toenail. I even used to eat my snot and now it has even stopped. I have started to take a general interest on how my body looks. So to think that people with tattoos and body piercings are dirty is just wrong. They take better care of themselves so that they do not get infections in the piercing or tattoo than the average person with no body piercings.

I think its time to remove our heads from our ass, and open our eyes.
this is 2010, lets stop the steriotyping.
Whether its infringed , constitutional or not, its a form of discrimnation.
we have the right to freely express ourselves(without harming another ovbiously) and if we chose to express ourselfs through tatoo’s which i see as a form of art, then we should be aloud. FOR GOD sakes pro-choice members argue that its “our body and we should be able to do w.e we want with it” so we legalize abortion and in some states the death penalty. (i see this as a controdiction) becasue we inforce Laws upon murder being wrong , but yet what example are we setting by legalizing abortions and death penalties, if its all about choice then lets all kill eachother ! and argue that its our body and we should be aloud to kill ! (thats beside the point, i got carried away) yet tatoo’s and piercing have an influence upon whether or not ur sutible for a job.
Saying that one with tatoo’s or piercings is not capable of a job because, ur belifs are that tatoo’s bring “negative attention” or make other feel uncomftrable then that is a steriotype.
i ask these questions?

Why is a person with tatoo’s and piercing seen as unproffesional?

define professional?

Arnt we taught that we should never judge a book by its cover. what examples are setting when we hire people based on their physical appearance. No a good one thats for sure.

I AGRREE COMPLETELY with the statement mad above “interest. An employee who feels accepted and is allowed to express her individuality is more likely to be a dedicated worker.”

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