BCN Services

Employers have options for tattoo policies in the workplace

Article employee benefits concept

Do you have to hire the person with a dragon tattoo on their neck? What about a rose?

In 2009, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that 36 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo. Those 29-year-olds are now 34 and approaching the middle of their careers! Even more revealing, a Harris poll taken in 2012 indicates that one in five adults has at least one tattoo.

How does your business deal with employees with visible tattoos? Do you allow employees to show those tattoos at work? What about facial piercings that are becoming more and more popular?

As tattoos and piercings become more commonplace, you may be concerned about your hiring practices regarding visible tattoos or whether to institute a policy for existing employees that arrive at work with one.

Be consistent with your policy

If you deal with the public and are concerned that employees with visible tattoos would cause a concern or be uncomfortable for your clients or customers, you have the right to set an appearance policy and require employees to follow it. You also have the right to not hire someone that has visible tattoos provided yours is not discriminatory.

Making certain you consistently enforce your policy is key. Also, be aware that you may need to accommodate an employee whose tattoo or piercing is a statement of a sincerely held religious belief. Keep in mind that some religions use tattoos or other body adornment items as a religious expression.

Caution is the order of the day when dealing with a claim of religious accommodation. Should an employee claim that a tattoo, piercing or other adornment (such as certain clothing garments) is a sincere religious belief, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the employee does not have to provide proof from an organized religion to support claim of a sincerely held religious belief. This is a bit of a slippery slope for many employers. Religious accommodation does not require an affiliation with any organization or group.

So to review: You have the right to establish a dress code/personal appearance policy and, as long as it is published, is not discriminatory and you have a reasonable business reason for the policy, you can refuse to hire someone with visible tattoos or require employees to cover visible tattoos or remove visible piercings.

You have a right to expect your employees have a professional and business-like appearance.

How about employees who don’t deal with the public?

While a policy for employees that deal directly with customers or the public is reasonable, what if an employee does not deal with customers or interact with the public? Do you need or want to prohibit visible tattoos? What impact does it have on fellow employees? Is there a need to address tattoos in a warehouse setting, manufacturing environment or an office setting where there is no customer or public contact? In those cases such a policy may simply limit your recruiting, hiring or retention.

If you have employees that work in both public and non-public settings, you can differentiate and maintain separate policies if you can show a legitimate business reason for doing so.

Perhaps you decide to stop fighting an uphill battle and only ban or require employees to cover offensive tattoos or those that, for example, might scare children. As an employer, you can set a reasonable standard and review this on a case-by-case basis. A flower or heart  may be deemed acceptable, for example, while a dragon or sexually themed image could be prohibited or required to be covered.

The best practice for employers is to base dress codes on objective criteria such as workplace safety and professional image and make reasonable accommodations for employees with body adornment, dress and/or grooming-related requirements that do not adhere to the dress code, but do not present health or safety concerns.

If you need to establish a policy, revise a policy or discuss the situation further, your BCN Services Human Resources Department or your BCN Partnership Manager are available to help guide you through the options and provide you with best practice advice. Call us at 800-891-9911 or email us at



Jeff Walsh (200x190)

Jeff Walsh, Partnership Manager