Magazine article HRMagazine

The Body Art Politic

Magazine article HRMagazine

The Body Art Politic

Article excerpt

Yes. Employers may prohibit visible body art as long as the policy applies to all employees in similar jobs and contains exceptions that would allow reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs.

That said, anyone can file a lawsuit for just about any reason. Since you might have to pay to defend your policy in court one day, consider designing one that isn't too rigid.

Gone are the days when only sailors and bikers sported tattoos. Nowadays, 29 percent of the U.S. population has at least one work of inked art, according to The Harris Poll in October 2015. Almost half of Millennials have at least one tattoo, and more women than men are getting them.

Traditionally, tattoos have been seen as unprofessional "job stoppers"-whether they are elaborate painted "sleeves" on the arm or a tiny red heart on a wrist. But when we attempt to create a dress code that limits individuality, we should do so with considered thought.

Tattoos and piercings can hold great personal meaning to an individual. They can be a way to express one's religious faith, cover a scar, remember a deceased loved one, symbolize a cultural rite of passage or demonstrate one's personality. Ask someone about their tattoos and great emotions may surface, personal motivations might be learned or creative inspiration uncovered. As companies seek to attract the best and brightest from around the globe, visible tattoos and piercings may soon become the norm in a strong, diversified workplace. So if your company arbitrarily denies employees the opportunity to express themselves through body art, you might send a message that inadvertantly curtails innovation and growth- especially if a talented employee with a tattoo is forced to leave or great job candidates with piercings are skipped over. Your employer's brand could also suffer, as Millennials and others look for employers that seem more progressive and inclusive.

Of course, some limits are acceptable and wise. Banning visible profane or demeaning slogans or images makes sense, as does prohibiting tattoos for customer-facing employees in conservative industries such as banking. Those working with children might be asked to cover tattoos of a frightening nature, and perhaps a nurse shouldn't have a tattoo of a blood-dripping scythe on the back of his hand.

Drafta policy that best meets your business's needs. But don't base it on outdated appearance standards. When you write a policy like this, try to imagine what would happen if both your worst and best employees violated it. Is it worth saying goodbye to your best programmer, salesperson or up-and-coming executive because of a new wrist tattoo that peeks out from under her cuff? If not, it may be time to reconsider strict body art policies and embrace a more encompassing definition of professionalism.

I've been asked this question countless times over the years-usually followed by "Is it legal?" The answer to the latter is yes. It is allowable in all 50 states, even California (which years ago didn't think it was such a great idea). But before you adopt such a policy, think about how it might affect employee morale.

While the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn't actually govern paid time off(PTO) banks, it is the relevant law to consider here. Under the FLSA, most exempt positions must be paid a weekly salary that can be docked only in specific situations, assuming the employees worked any portion of the workweek. Requiring someone to use PTO leave doesn't result in any loss of salary, which is what the federal law prohibits. …

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