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Body Piercings and Tattoos in the Workplace

by: Jeannine Hohmann, HR Strategist, TriStarr Staffing

Policies dealing with dress code and personal appearance are becoming more of a challenge to employers as trends and generational demographics change and mold today’s workforce. While business suits were once the norm, business casual attire is much more acceptable in a majority of businesses today. There is another trend that is causing employers to rethink and update their dress code policy – tattoos and body piercings.

The growing visibility of tattoos and body piercings on college campuses, TV shows and sports broadcasts might lead some to conclude that such body art is also acceptable in the workplace. However, this is not necessarily true. According to court rulings, an employer has a legitimate business interest in presenting a workforce that is “reasonably professional in appearance.” To protect this business interest and company image, employers have a right to implement grooming and dress policies, including guidelines for body piercings and tattoos. Dress codes also apply when the safety of employees is a concern. For example, employees working in such industries as health care, hospitality and manufacturing where certain clothing or piercings could cause injury to the individual.

In addition to the above, many employers who are in charge of a department or business grew up in a generation that portrayed a much more conventional company culture. This is where generational diversity really has some struggles. In one study, it was reported that nearly 40% of workers that fall into the Generation X and the Millennial generation have tattoos and piercings somewhere other than their earlobes. While these younger generations argue self-expression, older generations are not that accepting and, right or wrong, tattoos and piercings carry a stigma for these individuals. Also, people with tattoos and body piercings are branded with stereotypes that can hurt their chances of finding a job.

Below are several examples of how an individual can be stereotyped if their tattoos or body piercings are visible. These examples do not reflect my personal opinion or that of TriStarr, but are instead a collection of results from several HR reports and surveys:

  • · In general, individuals with tattoos and body piercings are often viewed as “rougher” or “less educated”.
  • · Excessive tattoos and piercings can be viewed by some older generations as “unclean” or “unsanitary” as opposed to “art” by younger generations.
  • · An employee with tattoos and piercings may make some individuals, customers and vendors very uncomfortable or nervous.

More often, companies have revised their dress code and personal appearance policy to accommodate both the younger and older generations. Some policies state that all visible tattoos must be covered during working hours and prohibit excessive body piercings (eyebrow, nose, etc.) outside of ear lobes. Often these policies also prohibit wearing gauges or expanders in the ear lobes. No matter what the policy states, it must be applied equally among both genders.

Click here to download our White Paper titled, But It’s My Body Art, and I Like It!

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