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Can an employer prohibit employees from having tattoos?

['Employee Relations']
Can an employer prohibit employees from having tattoos?
  • Employment laws don’t specifically bar employers from discriminating against tattooed individuals.
  • Because so much of the workforce is tattooed, employers might opt not to adopt a policy that prohibits tattoos.

Because employment laws don’t specifically protect employees or applicants from discrimination based on tattoos, employers are generally able to discriminate. However, a considerable portion of the U.S. population has tattoos, so companies may want to consider the following questions before adopting a policy that prohibits employees from having visible tattoos or ruling out an applicant with ink:

  • Is the tattoo offensive?
    • Offending customers has always been a common employer concern, but since tattoos have become increasingly common over the years, this is less likely. However, if a tattoo is racist, sexist, or vulgar, an employer’s concern may be valid.
  • Can it be covered?
    • Rather than refusing to employ tattooed individuals, employers might require that tattoos be covered during work time.
  • Is it religiously based?
    • Employers may need to make an exception to a policy of refusing to employ tattooed individuals if a tattoo is religiously based. Likewise, exceptions may need to be made to a requirement that employees cover visible tattoos if doing so would violate the individual’s religious beliefs.
      • The religion would have to either require or encourage the tattoo, and also forbid that it be covered.