A 2010 Pew Research Center report indicates that about 40 percent of adults between 18 and 29 have one tattoo, and 50 percent of those with tattoos have more than one. Of those who tattoo themselves, 18 percent have more than six tattoos. In comparison, a 2006 report indicated that only 10 percent of adults between 41 and 64 have a tattoo. The prevalence of body art in the workplace makes it necessary to understand whether you can regulate the appearance of tattoos in your organization.
Employers’ rights take precedent over the employees’ desire to display tattoos, according to a September 2008 article on the American Bar Association’s website. While the employee may enjoy displaying important images on his body, the courts consistently rule that employers have the right to set boundaries and policies on how much body art an employee may display. In November 2006, the court case Robert v. Ward, heard in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, found that employers can impose dress and appearance policies, including regulating tattoo displays, provided the policies are handled in an equitable fashion.
If you do not already have an appearance policy that includes body tattoos, working with your attorney or human resources professional will help you prepare one that fits your organizational needs. You can limit the number of tattoos that are visible when an employee is working at your organization or ban tattoos, assuming you have a legally defensible business reason to do so. Legitimate reasons to ban or limit tattoos in the workplace include your customers’ level of comfort with dealing with tattooed employees and the perception of businesses with which you have professional relationships.
Before finalizing your policy, form a small committee that represents the age range and demographic population of your organization to elicit their opinions and make the members feel a part of the decision-making process. Although you can legally ban all tattoos, you should consider allowing exceptions for cultural or religious purposes. If you don’t, you could be sued for alleged discrimination. Clearly communicate the final appearance policy to both newly hired and existing employees to avoid confusion or misunderstandings.