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A recent Harris International Poll revealed that 21% of adults in the United States have tattoos. That figure includes 38% of 30-somethings and 27% of 40-49-year-olds. Piercings (other than earrings) are also becoming much more commonplace as 25% of 30-somethings have a piercing somewhere other than their earlobes according to the Pew Research Center.
As the world is changing and body art and jewelry is becoming more prevalent, what can the more conservative and traditional employer do about it?
To start, take a step back and consider very carefully just what policies you want to put in place.
Are you okay with a moderate butterfly or flower tattoo? How about symbols or text? Eyebrow or nose rings versus lip or tongue piercings? Are there specific industry or culture considerations in play that you need to address? Is there a safety issue to be considered? Could a piercing interfere with equipment and potentially harm to an employee? Safety trumps most other reasons or requests. Be sure to document the reasoning behind your decisions.
Different positions within a company can have different requirements based on specific job duties.
A recent Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) article by Joanne Deschenaux includes this legal opinion:
“Generally speaking, an employer has leeway over what kind of policies to set regarding tattoos and piercings,” said Marc Scheiner, an employment lawyer at the Duane Morris firm’s Philadelphia office. “When the reasons behind [appearance] codes are ‘company image,’ those are the grayest areas.” Decisions will usually turn on the facts of the specific case, but Scheiner said courts want to see both sides be flexible. “The employee has to work with the employer to find reasonable accommodations,” he explained.
Here is the leading legal advice being offered through the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM):