Pin Me

What Can You Do About Employee Tattoos?

written by: •edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/19/2011

Can you tell an employee to cover up their tattoo? Are you allowed to deny employment to someone who has tattoos? If you’re not sure, HR Expert Jean Scheid offers up some insight to help you stay in compliance with labor laws.

  • slide 1 of 6

    But I Like My Tattoo!

    Tattoo from Mexico So your administrative assistant just walked in your office and yep—she decided to get a tattoo over the weekend boasting the name of her BFF! And not only does it boldly show the name, there is a snake of some sort around the name that climbs up her neck!

    Can you implement rules for tattoos in the workplace as far as these inked-out folks go? The answer is a resounding yes. As an employer you can’t stop an employee from getting any sort of tattoo but you can develop a tattoo policy.

  • slide 2 of 6

    Developing a Reasonable Policy

    Tattoos at Work I like the word “reasonable" here, as some employers actually encourage tattoos. According to a story for an ABC affiliate, WAPT in California by reporter Christine Mlodzik, some companies such as Whole Foods encourage freedom of expression and “allow team leaders to write their own dress code"--and that also means policies on tattoos.

    Still, the more conservative companies such as Disney and Sea World (more family venues) don’t stop employees from having or obtaining tattoos, but they must be covered up while at the workplace. If tattoos are in an area impossible to cover with clothing, opaque makeup may be used.

    Even the armed forces only allow tattoos if they can be covered up via the uniform and don’t cover more than 25 percent of the body. Interestingly, my son-in-law in the Air Force says the government owns his body and he can’t even get a sunburn—something I don’t really believe because the last time I checked the Air Force was part of the US Armed Forces.

    So, first you have to determine the type of work atmosphere that will be comfortable to both your employees and your clients—especially your clients, as some people are offended by tattoos of the off-color nature or those with offensive phrases.

    Next, it’s time to come up with a reasonable policy on tattoos in the workplace.

  • slide 3 of 6

    Be Fair and Abide by the EEOC

    Grudge Tattoo The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission or EEOC doesn’t provide a policy on tattoos but it does say set employee policies must be fair across the board. What does that mean? It means if Jane has a rose tattoo on her neck and John has an offensive saying tattooed on his forearm—no matter the type of tattoo, if you have a policy, both must find ways to cover them up—with makeup or clothing.

    Just because you may think a rose is okay as far as tattoos go, you can’t allow one employee to reveal tattoos and not another. The policy you write on tattoos must include everyone from entry-level employees to upper management.

    If you don’t want employees to reveal any tattoos at the office, you can write a simple short policy and include it in your employee handbook, no matter what state you live in, and you won’t be breaking the law as long as employees are aware of the policy and you follow the rules of the policy.

  • slide 4 of 6

    A Sample Policy

    Fly Tattoo A sample policy on tattoos may read this way:

    At ABC Company, although we don’t disallow tattoos we have determined and do enforce that tattoos of any nature must be covered up by clothing or tattoo cover-up makeup. This policy is for all employees and violations will result in a written warning. Upon three written warnings, the employee may face termination or change in position as a result of continual violation of the tattoo policy. If you have any questions regarding this policy, please ask your supervisor or the HR Department.

    All employee handbooks should have an acknowledgment page stating the employee received the handbook and are aware of the policies set therein. So, even if one does violate the policy, if they are aware of the policy, it has been explained to them, and they choose to show their tattoos at the office, you’ll be safe based on your tattoo policy.

  • slide 5 of 6

    Work Tattoo Exceptions

    Tattoo Some organizations such as law enforcement officers in various areas around the country do not allow tattooing of any kind. Once again in Ms. Mlodzik’s story on tattoos in the workplace, she reveals one police department in Sacramento, California, denied tattoos of any kind: During a traffic stop, because the officer had a tattoo, the person being questioned thought the officer was someone impersonating an officer. Hence, no tattoos are allowed.

    If you feel your organization falls in an area where tattoos would sway your employees from performing their job due to fear from clients or the general public, check with a labor law attorney first to determine if disallowing tattoos is legal. Finally, no matter what policy you implement, make sure it’s followed by everyone and when enforced, it’s fair to every employee, no matter what the level of the employee ladder.

  • slide 6 of 6


    The author holds a degree in HR management.

    Mlodzik, Christine, Tattoos in the Workplace: Your Right to Bear Arms – -

    Image Credits:

    Tattoo from Mexico - cdw0107/

    Tattoo - claudmex/

    Grudge Tattoo - jenikahycc/

    Fly Tattoo - jefbr/

    Tattoo - ellersen/