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[Source: Bob Evnen, Woods & Aitken LLP, 07.17 | Keywords: Human Resources, HR Policy, Tattoos]

Do you have a policy on tattoos, branding and body piercing by your employees? If not, it is something you may want to consider.

It has been widely reported that the Philadelphia Police Department implemented a new tattoo policy effective March 1. This first‑ever Philadelphia PD tattoo policy forbids on‑duty officers from having “offensive, extremist, indecent, racist or sexist tattoos.” The policy was implemented following a controversy regarding one of its police bike officers who was photographed with a tattoo of a spread‑winged eagle closely resembling a symbol of the Nazi Party and the word “Fatherland” above it in gothic letters. Photos of the officer went viral. The new Philadelphia Police Department policy forbids head, face, neck and scalp tattoos and extreme body modifications, like tongue‑splitting. Officers who already have tattoos in violation of the new directive must cover them up with makeup or clothing.

Tat Stats 

A recent Harris poll found one in five U.S. adults reported they had at least one tattoo. Women are slightly more likely to have a tattoo (23%) versus men (19%). A Pew Research Center survey showed roughly 40% of adults between 18 and 29 have one tattoo and 50% of those with tattoos had more than one. The number of tattoo artists has also increased in the United States from 500 in 1960 to more than 10,000 in 1995. A survey conducted in Kansas on whether their state troopers should be allowed to have tattoos disclosed nearly 20,000 of the respondents already had tattoos and 69% said the department should not have a policy prohibiting visible tattoos.

Best Practices

INEDA dealers should consider developing a written personal appearance policy, which is in the best interest of their business when applied consistently. In general, the policy should cover clothing, appearance and grooming. A detailed list of permissible and impermissible items is not necessary, specific examples can help. General statements about appropriate dress, appearance and grooming, with specific examples where appropriate, should prove sufficient. The policy should be given to all employees and a signed acknowledgment should be obtained from all employees that they have read, understand and will abide by the policy.

The policy should be enforced on a case‑by‑case basis so as not to run afoul of discrimination laws. For example, employees have no legal right to wear a tattoo unless it is required for a sincerely held religious belief. In such a situation, management should speak with the employee to determine what reasonable accommodation is appropriate for the employee’s religious beliefs.

The policy should be enforced evenhandedly. If you decide to start enforcing the company’s appearance policy but have been lax about it in the past, begin by re-publishing the policy to your employees and then follow through with your enforcement plan.

Both the appearance and content of tattoos can be regulated. A rule requiring that a tattoo be covered at work is generally permissible. On the other hand, an employer might choose to permit visible tattoos as long as they don’t appear on the face, neck, or hands. There are other variations possible here.

When visible tattoos are permitted, the problem may be offensive content, such as tattoos containing profanity, obscenity, nudity, gang signs or affiliations, swastikas or similarly offensive art. Such content can be forbidden or required to be covered. This is similar to the type of harassment forbidden by your hostile work environment policy. Common sense should prevail when enforcing your employment policy concerning personal appearance.

A New Day

Statistics now show that Millennials and Generation Z are more likely to get tattoos than prior generations
and as such, general attitudes toward tattoos are changing. Often, businesses treat tattoos as they treat speech – you shouldn’t swear or make offensive jokes in the workplace – nor can your tattoos. INEDA dealers compelled by a lack of applicants and desirous of a more diverse applicant pool may look at easing traditional no tattoo policies.

For help drafting a new appearance policy or reviewing an existing policy, call the INEDA Human Resources Helpline at 855.277.5575 or email revnen@woodsaitken.com.