Tattoos used to be considered part of society's counterculture. It is probably a fair statement to say that for years, many people associated tattoos with gangs, bikers and other groups that were considered to be outside of the social center. Today, tattoos have gained wider social acceptance and more and more people, men and women alike, have them. Currently, people with tattoos work in a variety of industries and hold both entry-level jobs as well as top executive positions. So, what is an employer to do, particularly those employers whose employees are exposed on a daily basis to the public? Is body art a workplace issue? Does having a visible tattoo say anything about an individual that is relevant to his or her job?
In today's global marketplace, employers are taking more seriously the need to provide a work environment that welcomes employees from many different backgrounds. The competition to attract and retain skilled workers has resulted in corporate cultures that strive to demonstrate the value placed on individual and group contributions. And there is increasing attention paid to offering a company culture and benefits package that supports a variety of lifestyles. Should someone with a visible tattoo be treated any differently?
Depending on what and where the tattoo is, there may or may not be an issue for employers. The laws in most jurisdictions still tend to support employer dress code/appearance policies in general and employers still retain some flexibility in creating rules that require employees to present themselves in a way that is consistent with that particular employer's image. But that does not mean, at the same time, that an employer can exercise unbridled power and ban tattoo's altogether. In some cases, such conduct can be determined to violate the law.
In the next update, I will examine what employers can do to balance the enforcement of their own policies with the individual rights and interests of their employees.