Discrimination Against Tattoos in the Workplace

Your employer can require you to wear clothing that covers your tattoos.
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That cute little tattoo of a rose just above the curve of your backside is discreet enough that only you and your honey know it’s there, but if you have tattoos in places that are clearly visible, you may be heading for a clash with your employer. Multiple tattoos, body piercings and a wide variety of jewelry inserted into various portions of the anatomy are becoming much more common in today’s workforce, and employers are taking notice.

Visible Body Art

    Body art, another term for tattoos, has historically been associated with gangs and other “undesirable” elements of society. Many employers wince at the sight of visible body art or multiple piercings, especially when the employee is on the front lines providing direct customer service. Some people find extensive tattoos, tattoos that include obscenities or images such as daggers, drops of blood or a skull and crossbones to be offensive. Most organizations are sensitive to anything that might make customers uncomfortable, even if the intent behind the ink is innocent.

Professional Appearance

    Employers are entitled to determine what constitutes a professional business appearance and may implement dress code policies to enforce their expectations. It’s also okay for an employer to enforce different standards for men and women, according to Business and Legal Resources. Hair length, for example, is one area where an employer may have different requirements for the two sexes. Employers may also allow female employees to wear earrings while restricting earrings for men.


    Tattoos are a different situation when it comes to employee policies. An employer can develop policies that require employees to wear clothing that covers visible tattoos or simply refuse to hire people who have visible tats. These policies are legal as long as they are enforced evenhandedly across all ages and apply to both sexes. However, if an employer allows men to display their tattoos at work while women have to cover up, it may face claims of sex discrimination, which is illegal.


    One exception to the rules about tattoos and other forms of body art such as piercings is religion. Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who practice a religion that requires certain types of dress or behavior. Among Hindus, for example, henna tattoos and body piercings such as nose rings or facial studs are the norm rather than the exception. Another exception is that an employer can’t fire you just because you have tattoos. But in all other respects, your employer calls the shots when it comes to your body art.

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