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Body Mods & Employers

Body Modifications & Employability;
Are Tattoos & Piercings Taboo or Acceptable in The Workplace?

If you are reading this article, chances are that either you or someone you know has wondered about one or more of the following questions:

  • How will a tattoo or body piercing affect me at a job interview?
  • Will my body piercing affect my ability to get hired for the job I want?
  • If I get that new tattoo I want, will I have issues with my current or future employers?
  • My boss said facial piercings are against company policy, should I do it anyway?
  • Everybody has a tattoo or body piercing, why does my company make such a big deal about it?
  • With body modification being so popular won’t employers be forced to change their policies?
  • I am very qualified, how can a little thing like a tongue ring affect my employment?
  • How can they refuse to hire me because of my facial piercing, isn’t that discrimination?

These are all good questions, and ones which should probably be considered before getting a tattoo or body piercing rather than after the fact. Although things are beginning to change a bit, you may not like the current answers to these and other questions concerning body modifications and employment issues. To find out more about what effects a body modification may have on your future employment prospects, read on.

There is no doubt that body modifications are becoming increasingly popular these days. It is nearly impossible to leave your house without seeing someone who is tattooed and/or pierced. With the body modification culture growing by leaps and bounds, the question arises as to whether (and to what extent) this form of self expression is being accepted by mainstream society and what impacts your body modifications will have on obtaining employment in a given field. This article looks at some of the most popular body modifications and the employment trends with some of the top employers and industries in the United States job market to try and find an answer to this pressing and important question.

When it comes to both official company policies and less obvious prejudices or stereotyping which may exist only in the mind of the person or persons interviewing candidates for an employment position, there is one primary theme which dominates. That theme is based on the concept of the desirability for employees to present a professional appearance when representing the company as an employee. Whether you agree with this theory or not, the fact remains that it is both alive and well in today’s job marketplace and is something that must be considered by potential employees.

This article will look at issues, such as discrimination, which affect all forms of body modification as well as other issues which apply specifically to body piercing and tattoos individually.

Fair Labor Laws and Employment Discrimination Legislation; Do they apply to Body Modifcations?

While company policies which require certain dress codes or limit the extent of allowable body modifications among the workforce are not considered to be facially discriminatory by the courts at this time, there may be exceptions. For instance, there have been numerous legal challenges to employer policies on body modifications based on gender and religious discrimination. The success or failure of these types of claims has varied widely based on factors such as both the specific facts of the cases as well as the jurisdiction in which the claims were brought. While the author makes no attempt to predict the possible success of any particular claims, a brief overview of the underlying concepts seems in order and well within the scope of this article.

Generally speaking, policies against employees having tattoos or piercings on the face, neck, hands, or uncovered arms are allowable and not considered to be discriminatory in nature. If, however, those policies differ between the sexes such as allowing them for men but not women there may be valid grounds for a discrimination action. For instance, one employer was found to have an illegal gender based discriminatory policy where they allowed male employees to have tattooed forearms, but discharged a female employee for getting one. To be illegal, this type of policy must be clearly gender biased and not related to the content of the tattoo. A visible tattoo which is deemed to be vulgar, obscene, or hate oriented (such as a swastica or burning cross) can be legally discriminated against in any circumstance.

Tattoos which appear on the neck, hands, or face (regardless of their content) may be easier for employers to single out and disallow due to the historic and deep rooted meanings associated with these tattoo placements. It is generally beleived that tatoos in these locations are indicitive of such things as gang affiliation, a history of violent crime, or imprisonment. Even if the tattooed individual does not fall into one of these groups, the employer can reasonably argue that members of the community will infer that they are and that the company's reputation will be damaged by being represented by these employees.

In short, the current state of the law generally favors the employers ability to allow or disallow visible tattoos as they see fit so long as the policy does not create a clear gender based bias and result in an undue burden on the employee as a result of this gender based bias.

This article is currently being written and should be completed within the next few days.


Written by: David A. Darsow, C.E.O. Montana Body Art, Inc. and 2nd year law student at the University of Montana School of Law.

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