Getting Dressed for Work: What’s Allowed and What’s Forbidden

A friend of mine with two college-aged daughters summed up the surge in body art this way: there are people who don’t get tattoos or piercings, people who get one, and people who don’t stop. Contrary to what some employees believe, body art is not protected expression. An employer has the right to set standards for appearance in the workplace.

Employees will periodically ask me if they can be denied a job because a potential employer objects to their multiple visible tattoos. The answer is yes. The same goes for multiple piercings. Once hired, if an employee’s appearance changes substantially in specific ways such as an increase in visible tattoos and/or piercings, an employer has a right to request that employees adhere to appearance standards outlined in its employee handbook.

Think of the issue this way: employers have the right to ask employees to adhere to hygiene standards, such as regular bathing and control of body odor. It's the same with body art (tattoos and piercings, for example). A clear and concise written policy on an employer’s expectations of all employees in the workplace, reviewed by counsel, can effectively communicate to and make employees aware of the expectations on workplace appearance.  When in doubt, ask counsel before addressing the issue with an employee.