Ask the legal expert: nursing home staff tattoos and piercings

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Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
What can we do to discourage employees from getting tattoos and body piercings?

While tattoos and piercings are becoming increasingly more common in today's society, employers are still allowed to at least restrict their visibility at the workplace.

Courts consistently find that a policy forcing employees to cover tattoos and piercings is allowed, as long as it is for a legitimate business purpose.

The best practice regarding limiting tattoos and piercings in the workplace is to make sure that there is a written policy and that managers consistently enforce that written policy.

If a company has a written policy that contains a dress or appearance code, including one limiting tattoo and piercing visibility, it must be for a legitimate business purpose.

For a long-term care facility, the patient's comfort with the staff most likely will fall under a legitimate business concern.

The only time where this question becomes difficult is if the employee's tattoos or piercings are for religious purposes. If an employee asserts that the tattoo or piercing is an expression of a religious belief, then the employer may be required to develop an accommodation that is reasonable to both parties. If both sides are intent on working something out, this shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

In these situations, having a tattoo or piercing of a religious figure is not itself enough to invoke this accommodation requirement, but the tattoo or piercing must itself have a religious purpose.

The general principle is that barring an issue of religion, if an employer has a reasonable, recorded policy that is consistently enforced, the employer can limit the appearance of tattoos and piercings.  

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