More and more, I see applicants showing up for job interviews with tattoos and piercings. While most of the tattoos aren’t actually offensive, they certainly don’t seem professional. Some people are showing up with earrings in an eyebrow, a nose, a lip or even in a tongue. What can I do to hire good employees and still maintain a professional workplace?
Concerned HR Administrator
An employer has the right to maintain and protect its professional image, and many companies do that by having a uniform dress/appearance policy in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has stated that “An employer may require all workers to follow a uniform dress code even if the dress code conflicts with some workers’ ethnic beliefs or practices.’” Such a policy must be in writing and circulated to the employees (so they are aware of it). It must also be consistently applied. For example, if a female employee is punished or penalized for having a visible tattoo, a male employee bearing a similar tattoo should receive similar treatment. As always, you need to avoid either discriminating or being perceived as engaging in discrimination.
You also need to bear in mind that a general policy may need to be modified in specific circumstances. Consider, for example, whether the tattoos and/or piercings have any religious significance. If so, and the tattoo or piercing is part of the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, you may need to make allowances. The EEOC has stated that “if the dress code conflicts with religious practices, the employer must modify the dress code unless doing so would result in undue hardship.” In that situation, the Company must balance its needs with the rights of the employee.
In addition, when crafting the appearance policy, you should make sure that it reflects the needs of your company. Not all your employees may have contact with your clients; in fact, some may not even have much contact with their fellow employees. Since we’re now living in a time when approximately one in every five adults in the U.S. has a tattoo (according to Harris Polls), it stands to reason that tattoos and piercings are going to become even more prevalent in the workforce. A blanket anti-tattoo/anti-piercing policy may end up costing you able employees.
The key is for the Company to (i) have a written policy (ii) that addresses the needs of the business, that is (iii) made known to the employees and (iv) applied consistently (although with flexibility where religious beliefs are at issue). If you believe it necessary to terminate an employee for violating the policy, I recommend that you check with counsel first, to make sure you’ve followed appropriate procedures, and have minimized any potential liability.
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