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Tattoo Policies at Work: 5 Tips for Employers

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

Do you have a tattoo policy at work? While many workplaces don't care so much about employee appearances, others are so stringent that they'll even implement a no-tattoo policy.

The U.S. Army, for example, is set to enforce new rules prohibiting tattoos on soldiers' necks, forearms, and lower legs. The Army will also require soldiers to get racist and sexist tattoos removed, Stars and Stripes reports.

However, your small business is not the same as the Army. If you're thinking about creating a tattoo policy at your workplace, you'll want to keep it legal. Here are five tips for employers to keep in mind:

  1. Survey your customers and employees. Talk to the people who are affected most by a potential workplace tattoo policy -- your employees and customers. An informal survey is a good way to gauge what they think about inked appearances, and whether your policy needs to address tattoos.
  2. Be careful about stereotyping. Be wary of stereotyping that could result from your policy. For example, if you notice that your policy, as facially neutral as it may be, only affects women at your workplace or those of a certain race, this could potentially be claimed as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  3. Don't infringe on religious practices. Your tattoo policy should also be flexible enough to still accommodate your employees' religious beliefs. Certain religions may be linked to hairstyles, headscarves, and perhaps even body art, like tattoos. Dress and appearance codes must reasonably accomodate an employee's religious practices -- unless you can demonstrate, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), that the policy is necessary for your business and would create an undue hardship if it weren't enforced.
  4. Is the policy too broad? If you're set on creating a tattoo policy, make sure it's not too broad, as that could end up having a discrminatory effect. You'll want to cater your tattoo cover-up or removal policy to just ones that you think may affect your business -- for example, no profanities in one's tattoos, or no facial (or head) tattoos (ouch). Does it matter if someone has a tattoo of their daughter's name on the bottom of their foot? Probably not so much.
  5. Have a particular purpose in mind. Make sure you don't just decide to outright ban tattoos for no reason. Instead, state a clear, particular purpose. For example, the Army's soon-to-be-implemented policy is partly an effort to maintain a uniform look. Your employees will likely be more open to a policy that states a business-related goal instead of just your personal preference.

If you are having trouble with your business' tattoo policy or are dealing with any employee issues stemming from it, it may be wise to speak to an experienced employment lawyer in your area who can help.

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