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  Summer Dress Codes and Body Art
HR 411
  Summer Dress Codes and Body Art

With tattoos and piercings becoming increasingly popular among all demographics, employers are beginning to consider the impact of body art in the workplace. If you find body art to be inappropriate, a well-crafted dress code policy can be an effective means for dealing with the issue. The following are 6 guidelines for addressing body art in a dress code policy:

  1. Base the policy on your business needs. When developing a dress code policy, it's important to consider company culture and the image that you want to project to clients, the public, as well as current and potential employees. Employees who have body art most likely see it as a form of self-expression and may initially object to any sort of restrictions. Explaining your business reasons for adopting the policy may help alleviate some of those concerns (e.g., the policy is part of your efforts to maintain a professional and safe working environment).

  2. Evaluate possible restrictions. In general, employers have a lot of latitude in imposing restrictions on body art. Decide whether you will permit visible body art or whether you will require employees to cover tattoos and piercings. You might also decide to place different restrictions on employees who have contact with the public versus those who don't. Additionally, if you do decide to permit body art it's important to provide examples of what is acceptable and what is not (e.g., graphic, violent or otherwise offensive tattoos should never be visible).

  3. Provide guidelines for covering body art. If you wish to restrict visible tattoos and/or piercings, consider requiring that employees conceal them. Most body art can be covered with some type of clothing. For example, an employee with a tattoo that runs the length of her arm can conceal the tattoo by wearing a long-sleeve shirt while at work.

  4. Consider state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation for an individual's sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, absent undue hardship. Since some religious practices involve tattoos and/or piercings, employers may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's body art. Although employers generally have broad discretion in creating and enforcing dress code policies, they must be sure to provide a reasonable accommodation as appropriate and avoid policies that are significantly more burdensome on a protected class of employees.

  5. Promote safety. Identify jobs in which body art may pose a safety risk and establish safety guidelines as appropriate. For instance, employees who work with equipment should be required to remove jewelry, including piercings, prior to beginning their shift.

  6. Be consistent. Establish procedures for enforcing your dress code policy and train supervisors on how to enforce it. Remind supervisors that they have a duty to enforce all policies consistently, regardless of their personal views on body art.

While body art has grown in popularity, employers may have legitimate business reasons for establishing restrictions in the workplace. Unless otherwise prohibited by law, several options are available for addressing the issue, including banning inappropriate body art, prohibiting employees with regular customer contact from having visible piercings and tattoos, or requiring all employees to conceal their body art.

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