Since the early 1980’s, body art, such as tattoos and body piercings, has risen in popularity. Applicants and employees may think that employers cannot restrict these displays of self-expression; however, employers can limit visible body art in the workplace as long as they do not unlawfully discriminate.
As body art becomes more mainstream, employers may want to take another look at their dress codes. Forty percent of adults age 18 to 40 have some type of body art. If you strictly enforce a no visible tattoo or body piercing policy, you might be significantly limiting your qualified applicant pool.
Visible body art has only recently become more noticeable in the workplace and so most dress codes do not address it. Employers should include their expectations of body art in appearance guidelines. Dress codes should be based on business reasons and be applied consistently. Employers are encouraged to think about how they will address these issues before they arise. For example, it may be acceptable for a file clerk who does not have client contact to have visible body art but unacceptable for the receptionist at the front desk.
Progressive employers keep abreast of general cultural changes and revise policies to keep pace. Remember when men were not allowed to have long hair and women could not wear open-toed shoes at work? These dress code expectations were seen as a sign of the times and have all but disappeared.