Tattoo and piercing restrictions in the workforce

Hailey Griffin, Arts Editor

At some point in our lives, we learned that our appearances could influence how others see us. Many choose to believe that the way we present ourselves determines the type of person that we are. The old cliché, never judge a book by its cover, is a façade. Often, people develop preconceived notions about others based solely on outer appearances. Now, I’m not saying this is the way that it should be — this is simply the way it is.

The notion of pre-judgment certainly applies to job interviews. Dress a certain way — nice pants, dress shoes, perhaps a button-up — and you’ll have a better chance at landing the job. I remember taking a class in middle school called Career Awareness. Our teacher told us that people would view you as unprofessional if you show up to a job interview in sneakers and jeans. However, she didn’t reveal that many people also view visible tattoos and piercings as unprofessional.

At my old job, I was told that I had to take out my nose ring because the owners were against nose piercings. At another old job, the dress code insisted that (1) any offensive tattoos must be covered, (2) only two piercings in each ear were acceptable, (3) nose rings must be covered, and (4) tongue rings were forbidden.

A friend of mine who has facial tattoos used to work in the mall. She told me that her boss expressed that face and neck tattoos were strictly forbidden. My friend has since left her job at the mall; she’s afraid to apply to other places because she isn’t sure whether she’ll be discriminated against based upon her tattoos.

Madison College’s Lead Career and Employment Supervisor R0chelle Wanner met with me to briefly discuss the bias that some employers may or may not have regarding tattoos and piercings. When asked whether people with tattoos and piercings are more likely to be judged during the interview process, Wanner replied, “It depends on the organization. That’s why I think it’s important for students to research their organization.” When searching for a job, it’s important to research the culture of the company to which you’re applying and determine whether that company’s ideals and values line up with your own.

Customer base affects the stance that a company takes regarding tattoo and piercing restrictions. Tattoo and piercing restrictions often reflect customer expectations, as well as a company’s culture. Location could also affect the stance that a company takes regarding tattoo and piercing restrictions. In a more progressive, liberal city like Madison, you might tend to see more permissive tattoo and piercing policies than if you were in a more conservative city.

To gain an employer’s perspective, I talked to Hospitality Management Program Director and Instructor at Madison College, Dr. Lynea LaVoy. LaVoy has been at Madison College for seven years. Two decades prior to working at the college, LaVoy occupied management positions in hotels and restaurants. She expressed that in the last five to eight years, “Hotels and restaurants have started to embrace people’s individuality and creativity. There’s been more of a tolerance and acceptance for tattoos and piercings.”

It is unclear whether the increased acceptance of tattoos and piercings in the workplace is due to changing generational norms or a rise in tattoo and piercing popularity. “I don’t know if it’s trendy, I don’t know if it’s based on generation, I don’t know what it is, but I think that a vast majority of customers are also accepting of it. Maybe twenty years ago it was frowned upon, but now it is not as bothersome to people,” said LaVoy.

When asked about her personal stance towards tattoos and piercings in the workplace, LaVoy replied, “I don’t care about your piercings, or what your hair color is, or what tattoos you have on your body. If you’re making people feel welcomed and respected and cared for, then you’re doing your job.”

To gain an additional employer’s perspective, I also contacted Talent Acquisition Manager at American Family Insurance Jeffrey Close. As talent acquisition manager, Jeffrey manages a group of recruiters who conduct interviews and work with hiring managers.

“In most instances, tattoos and piercings really have nothing to do with an individual’s ability to do a job. For American Family, it’s really not something that we typically bring up as a part of an employment conversation,” said Close.

American Family’s dress code does not incorporate tattoo or piercing restrictions. Close expressed that many companies’ tattoo and piercing policies stem from concerns about customer interaction. However, he also acknowledged that in today’s world, tattoo and piercing restrictions are more likely to offend people than attract people towards certain positions.

Some people might say that the solution to dealing with tattoo and piercing restrictions is simple. Some people might say, “just cover your tattoo,” or “just take out your piercing.” Such statements are short-term solutions for the employee, but they do not address a larger problem. Why should a mode of self-expression determine whether somebody makes a suitable employee? People’s qualifications and skillsets should be the only factors that decide whether they’re the right candidate for a job. Fortunately, not all places implement strict tattoo and piercing restrictions. It just depends on the type of position you apply for and the establishment at which you apply.