Dress Codes and Today’s Culture

Categories: Management

By Wendy Christie | February 7, 2020 << Back to Articles Dress Codes and Today’s Culture

You would have to be blind to miss the changes in people’s fashion preferences. Every year, millions of men and women are getting more piercings and tattoos. And the body parts that can be pierced, pricked, lanced, and tattooed are growing in number.

You may see potential applicants with everything from the traditional pierced ears, to pierced belly buttons, tongues, noses, lips, eyebrows, cheeks, and even large ear lobe jewelry. And, some of these young applicants feel that if they have these areas pierced, they need to show off their jewelry. These young people are graduating high school or college and either have or will be showing up on your business doorstep looking for employment.

It is important that your employee handbook dress code policy keeps up to date on the growing changes.

A growing trend

Piercings and tattoos are growing in popularity in today’s youth and are becoming more popular in adults as well. This trend, often referred to as body art, may be readily visible on all areas of the body. As artistic and beautiful as some of these piercings and tattoos may be, the workplace may not be the ideal venue to showcase them.

Because of this growing trend in body art, it is important to have clear policies about piercings and tattoos in the dress code section of your employee handbook. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says employers can impose dress codes and appearance policies as long as they do not discriminate or hinder a person’s race, color, religion, age, national origin, or gender.

Learning from the following instances can help you avoid trouble.

Alamo Rent-A-Car had to pay a Muslim employee who was not allowed to wear a headscarf during the holy month of Ramadan. The court found that this was a bona fide religious belief and that Alamo had not demonstrated efforts to reach a reasonable accommodation with the employee.

Costco asked an employee to remove her facial piercing that violated the dress code policy in their employee handbook. Costco suggested accommodations that the employee rejected. The employee claimed that she belonged to the “church of piercing” and this was a religious accommodation. The courts ruled that the only accommodation the employee would accept is a blanket exemption for the employee handbook policy and that the church did not meet requirements for a credible religion. Costco walked away without having to pay the employee or make an accommodation.

Ameritech Corporation asked three telephone line technicians to remove their facial jewelry. The company claimed it was a “safety-based” employee handbook policy due to working next to electrical lines. The employees filed a grievance with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) because all jewelry was not prohibited, only their facial jewelry. The claim was finally settled with the company agreeing to ban all jewelry in their employee handbook dress code policy.

What do we learn from these examples?

Make sure your employee handbook policy gives consideration to religious accommodation.

Make sure your employee handbook policy is based on reasonable business or safety consideration rather than a biased dislike for specific personal expressions. Don’t forget that employee handbook dress code policies differ from industry to industry and from company to company. For example, some restaurants are conservative while others look for colorful employees that want to display their personalities.

Make sure your employee handbook policy matches your corporate culture and public image. Conservative businesses or businesses that cater to certain age groups may have strict dress code policies. Conversely, companies that aim to attract creative, artistic, or trendy clientele may be less stringent and even encourage displays of body art.

Specific language is a must

An employee that already worked for a company had blue hair, a pierced eyebrow, and a nose ring. When the employee showed up one day with her tongue pierced, the supervisor told her that she must remove it because there is something wrong with people who pierced their tongue. The eyebrow and nose ring did not bother the supervisor, but the tongue was not okay. The supervisor fired the employee and she took the matter to the court. Because of a lack of specific language in the dress code policy, a judge ordered that the employee’s job be reinstated with full back pay and with her tongue ring intact.

Make sure your employee handbook policy is specific about what is and is not permitted. If you do allow piercings, be specific if there are some places you don’t want employees to have pierced. You should also be specific if you do not want certain types of tattoos – sexually explicit tattoos, for example.

With piercings, locations on the body should be clearly addressed. Tattoos may contain profanity or sexually explicit depictions; these should be considered when stating a policy.

As dress code policies become more problematic, many companies have emerged that offer different types of dress code policies customized for different companies.

This article is intended to provide a general overview of some common employee dress code issues involving body art. Because no article can be all-inclusive and address every facet of a specific topic, you are encouraged to get professional help to update your existing employee dress code policy or consider instating one for the first time.


About the Author.

Wendy Christie owns, specializing in employee handbooks that can be customized for any organization. You can reach her at [email protected]