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May employers have dress code requirements that prohibit all visible tattoos and piercings?

Employers whose dress code requirements prohibit all visible tattoos and piercings may run into trouble—and morale issues may not be their only concerns. In addition to tattoos and body piercings being more popular as fashion statements, an across-the-board prohibition or restriction on employees displaying them could run contrary to the law.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers with 15 or more employees "must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer."  Many states also protect religious practices in their nondiscrimination laws. Several religions' practices involve body piercing, especially on the nose and ears, and tattoos. 

Aside from religious accommodation, an employer may establish dress code requirements that prohibit tattoos and body piercings that are not consistent with the organization's brand, image, values or mission, or that pose a safety hazard in the workplace.

As a practical matter, tattoos and piercings are common, and employers' policies have begun to soften. Less restrictive policies allow employers to benefit from a wider applicant pool. Rather than a prohibition, a policy might call for tattoos to be covered and jewelry to be removed from visible piercings for customer-facing or safety sensitive positions. Also, employers may prohibit employees from displaying tattoos that have slogans or images that are demeaning or feature profanity or other messages that do not promote or enhance a safe and productive workplace.

SHRM offers sample policies, including an example Dress Code: Jewelry and Tattoo Policy




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