How to Draw the Line on Tattoos in the Workplace

Your employees' tattoos may not send the message you seek to send at your business.
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From that detailed tattoo sleeve that is left uncovered by the uniform polo shirt, to the neck tattoo that seems an odd juxtaposition next to the collared shirt and tie, visible tattoos in the workplace can be a distraction and a source of consternation for employers. If your current workforce seems substantially more inked than in times past, or you are simply tiring of having your business’ professional appearance tarnished by your tattooed-to-the-nines workers, adopt and enforce a tattoo policy to limit the inking that fills your workspace.

    Step 1

    Write a policy stating that visible tattoos must be covered. Because refusal to hire individuals who have tattoos is a discriminatory action, you must provide a provision for people who already have tattoos, giving them the option to cover them in some fashion. While some businesses elect to compose policies that only prohibit offensive or inappropriate tattoos, policies like this require dependence upon interpretation so are harder to enforce. Sticking with a clear yes or no policy is a much sounder choice.

    Step 2

    Include a rationale that includes some explanation of why the policy prohibiting the visible display of tattoos is necessary. Include this information in your employee handbook immediately following your tattoo policy, explaining why visible tattoos would have a detrimental impact on your business. You could, for example, say, “it is vital that workers present a neat, professional appearance to the customers they service daily,” then continue, elaborating on this necessity and explaining how tattoos interfere with this need.

    Step 3

    Create a process for employees to respond to the policy. Any time you put a new policy in place that in any way limits your employees’ on-the-job rights, you are sure to ruffle some feathers. To reduce the negative outcry you may face if you implement the policy without first presenting it to your staff for review, allow them a period of time to read over -- and comment upon -- the new policy. These workers may bring to the table some workable ideas that you can use to improve your policy. Even if you don’t elect to change anything based upon your employees’ input, your workers will likely appreciate the fact that you gave them the opportunity to chime in.

    Step 4

    Set a start date for your policy to take effect and announce the upcoming start date to workers. This is particularly important for the employees who have visible tattoos, as it gives them time to plan their cover-up procedure and reducing their ability to come in on the day of the policy start with the tattoo still proudly showing and claim ignorance. If you suspect that workers may try to deny knowledge of the policy, reduce the likelihood that this happens by having all workers sign a copy of the new policy and placing the signed copies in their staff files.

    Step 5

    Enforce your policies carefully. Not only is equitable and consistent enforcement the only way you are actually going to accomplish your goal of seeing fewer tats in your workplace, it is also necessary to ensure that your policy isn’t a violation of the law. Many states specifically mandate that policies be enforced without exception to ensure there is no perceived bias on the part of the employer. The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, for example, specifically states that enforcing a policy prohibiting tattoos isn’t a de facto violation of employees’ rights to self-expression if the policy is enforced across the board.

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