Once the mark of the bad boy in the United States, tattoos have skyrocketed in popularity as a means of self-expression. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that 33 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 have at least one tattoo. However, at the workplace, tattoos do not always face a welcome reception. They can alienate potential employers and lead to job discrimination for employees who get one.
Though tattoo discrimination is nothing new, several important court cases involving tattoo discrimination in the workplace have occurred. One was Cloutier vs. Costco Wholesale. In this case, an employee refused to remove her piercing because she said it was a requirement of her religion. Costco asked her to either cover the piercing with a bandage or use a clear plastic spacer while at work. She refused and was terminated. The court found in Costco's favor, ruling that tattoos and piercings are voluntary body art and employers have the right to exclude them as long as they consider religious or ethnic beliefs. Companies have the right to demand that their employees look professional.
Job discrimination based on appearance is a real phenomenon. People with multiple tattoos are often stereotyped as being bad, outcasts or criminals. According to an article in Bluffton Today, a man named John Campbell applied for over 100 jobs in a two-month period, but was denied half of them due to his excessive tattoos.
Many think that if they feel discriminated against, they should be automatically able to sue. However, private employers are legally able to dictate dress codes for their companies, according to the video “Tattoos and Employment” on needlesandsins.com. Most appearance-based discrimination court cases fall on the side of the employer. Thus, if you feel discriminated against for your tattoos, do not be hasty to sue. Realize you are extremely unlikely to win. You may have to grudgingly accept that when employees represent the public face of a company, it is important that they meet certain grooming and appearance standards.
Before you get tattooed, take time to consider your future and how a tattoo will be received. Consider getting a tattoo in an area that clothing can easily cover. Avoid areas like your hands, face and neck. That way you can display your personality without drawing the ire of potential employers.
Many employers will work with their employees to help them meet dress code requirements, including covering tattoos. In the eyes of the law, this is called reasonable accommodation. If you do not meet these requirements, the company can legally fire you and it is not considered discrimination. An exception is if your tattoo is part of your religion. In Cloutier vs. Costco Wholesale, the court agreed with Ms. Cloutier that her piercings and tattoos were part of her religion, but sided with Costco because she refused reasonable accommodation.
Rules of Thumb
If your mother would not be proud of the tattoo you're considering, don’t get it. At least, don’t get it in an area you cannot easily cover.
If you are a business owner considering prohibiting or restricting piercings and tattoos, make sure you have a valid reason and always consider the thoughts, interests and opinions of your employees. Micromanaging them may lead to resentment, management-employee tension and more.