It could be the tribal armband, the distracting stamp on the lower back, or even an intricate facial design. These days, tattoos are everywhere, successfully transitioning from the arms of sailors to the ankles of sorority sisters. A person’s creativity and imagination are the only limiting factors to designs. Although we may love the tattoos that adorn our bodies, how do we feel about them in the workplace? Are tattoos still an issue, and how is this self-expression affecting performance evaluations, raises, and promotions?
The Ink Industry
The oldest known tattoo is on the body of an iceman dating to 3000 BC. The symbol found is simply dots and lines made of carbon ink. These days, a tattoo gun can puncture the skin between 50 and 3,000 times per minute while penetrating the skin about one millimeter deep. In the U.S., more women prefer tattoos than men, and a recent study suggests that 40% of people amid the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo.
There are numerous employers with policies that forbid visible tattoos on employees. Depending upon the industry, this makes sense. You will probably not see a surgeon with a bloody dagger on their forearm or a hotel concierge from a four-star hotel with barbed wire encircling their neck. However, these designs on workers who are not in the public eye may not pose any problem. The challenge for businesses is writing policies that distinguish jobs within the company where tattoos may or may not be appropriate.
The global marketplace is expanding, while companies are striving to provide work environments that welcome employees from various cultures and backgrounds. Companies are offering company cultures and benefits packages that appeal to a variety of lifestyles. Should the employee with a visible tattoo receive less courtesy? Laws support the employer dress code policies in general while giving employers flexibility in creating rules consistent with their company image.
What You Can Do About the Tattoos
When drafting policies involving tattoos, you must stay focused on business and avoid personal judgments. Negative assumptions are often misplaced. Work to establish dress code and appearance policies that are fair and are enforceable. Consult legal counsel before speaking to employees about their tattoos, especially if they have religious significance. Remember that making assumptions about tattoos is unsubstantiated and could result in a discrimination claim on the part of the employee. The policies need to be a product of sound judgment in the best interest of your company. You may find that your employee can simply cover their tattoo or be permitted an exception under your policy as a reasonable accommodation.
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