Workplace “Body Art” − An Update

Author’s note: In August, 2017, we published an article about the growing incidence of body art (tattoos and piercings) in the workplace. At the time, we talked about what the trend meant for employers, and what their rights were, when it came to restricting visible body art. A year later, we wanted to revisit the topic.

In 2015, the ABA called “Grooming, religion and body art the new frontier in workplace discrimination.” Depending on the industry, that may be an accurate assessment. According to a survey by Salary.com, visible tattoos in the workplace can have a negative effect on employees’ salaries, if not their attractiveness as new hires.

Nevertheless, millennial workers (and many workers from other eras) are increasingly adopting non-traditional body art (officially called body modifications). Business owners are grappling with how to address this issue. Per a February 2016 Harris Poll, 47 percent of Millennials and 36 percent of Gen X respondents have at least one tattoo, and that percentage is only going to rise.

Tattoos and piercings may be fine for businesses that want to be perceived as “edgy,” but what about more traditional firms? Company owners who enact sound business policies and practices can ensure the level of body modifications fits their business environments.

Like most aspects of employee behavior, the key to controlling body modifications is through a well-written company policy, generally implemented as part of the dress code. There is no blanket federal or state law that covers body modifications, per se. However, body modifications, in some cases, have been deemed to be part of a religious practice. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that employers with 15 or more employees “must reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.” Many states extend similar anti-discriminatory protections to employees of businesses with fewer than 15 workers.

Beginning with the interview or application, and continuing through onboarding, organizations must make their policies clear and give job seekers the opportunity to self-identify their body modifications − and any religious practices to which they relate.

Additionally, organizations should reconfirm policies for dress and appearance in a formal, written document that all new hires sign as a condition of employment. This approach levels the playing field and ensures all new hires are aware of potential repercussions if they expose body modifications in the workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently published a helpful article on this topic that may provide additional insight on this topic.