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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