Surprisingly, a recent study at Texas State University found that individuals of age 18 to 24, the age group with more body art than any other, tend to consider visible tattoos and piercings to be unacceptable at work, particularly when face-to-face customer contact or commission sharing goes with the job.
More surprisingly, even those in the study who have body art themselves, tend to be critical of coworkers who sport tattoos and piercings at work.
According to Brian Miller, an assistant professor of management at Texas State who conducted the study, it’s because “They don’t want their pocketbook to be affected by someone else’s negative appearance.”
In a related matter that’s not the least bit surprising, U.S. employers are increasingly banning visible body art in their dress code policies. Contrary to what some believe, it is not generally illegal for employers to do so.
That’s because employers have the right to project the image of their choosing. (As evidenced by the study, tattoos and immoderate piercings carry a social stigma in the USA, despite their popularity.) It’s also because there is no Federal discrimination law that specifically prohibits employers from banning visible tattoos and piercings in their dress code policies.
However, as with all policies, an employer must fairly apply a dress code policy to all employees in the same class; otherwise, the employer might face discrimination charges.
For example, it would be discriminatory for an employer to adversely single out certain employees, by enforcing a dress code policy based only on a particular religion or national origin. That’s because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of religion or national origin in any aspect of employment, including dress code policies.
An employer likely has the right to ban employees in the same class from sporting body art, but not ban employees in other classes from doing the same; for example, an employer likely may ban visible tattoos and piercings only for employees who must meet face-to-face with customers, as long as the employer applies the dress code equally to all employees in that class.
If your employer does equally apply a dress code to all employees who are in the same class as you, but you violate the policy by contrarily sporting your tattoos or piercings, then your employer likely has the right to fire or otherwise seriously discipline you.
However, if you take the matter to court through a lawsuit, then the court will likely consider your overall employment record at the company, how your employer disciplined other employees for the same dress code violation, and other factors, to determine whether or not sporting your body art truly warranted employment termination or other serious disciplinary action.
Consult a lawyer for legal advice about filing a lawsuit.