Champion HR Blog

Time to Tighten Your Employee Policy on Tattoos and Piercings?

Are you confused when it comes to what you can require you’re employees to adhere to as far as appearance is concerned? You’re not alone. The standards of dress and appearance have no doubt changed drastically over the last few years and employers are not really sure what they can and can’t require. While an open or undisclosed policy may work for certain industries, its important that you develop a clear and non-discriminatory employee policy when it comes to appearance.

According to court rulings, an employer has the right, as long as it coincides with a legitimate business interest, to require a certain level of “reasonable professionalism in appearance.” Therefore, an employer may create and implement appearance, grooming and dress policies to protect their legitimate business interest. Employers may not, however, apply the policies in a discriminatory manner.

Some issues are more complicated. Hairstyles for example, can be related to an employee’s religious beliefs. If an employee claims to have a sincerely held belief, it’s permissible for an employer to ask the employee questions about the requirements of the employee’s belief in terms of appearance, dress, holidays observed, and other pertinent requirements. Then the employer can discuss possible accommodations with the employee if the requirements conflict with the company’s grooming policy.

However, the employer is under no obligation to accept the employee accommodation request. An employer can consider expense, employee morale and workplace safety as well as other related issues when considering requested accommodations. If accommodation of an employee request would create an undue hardship for the company, an employer may reject the requested accommodation. An undue hardship can be demonstrated when there is an unreasonable expense or effort attached with that accommodation.

An employer may set different standards for men and women with regard to hair length. Employers may also maintain different standards for men and women regarding earrings, as the courts have found that such standards are not based on sex, but rather reflect a “customary code of grooming.”

When it comes to tattoos, however, employers must be sure not to have different employee policies for men and women. An employer may implement a policy against any visible tattoos, and may limit the size and location of tattoos. But the policy must be applied consistently to both men and women to avoid discrimination claims. An employer can require an employee to cover a tattoo if it is offensive.

If you need help with creating a policy for this or any other issue at your workplace, contact Champion today for assistance.