40 years after "flower power," body art has seen a resurgence. Men
and women flaunt pierced navels at the beach, sterling silver glinting
in the sun. Tattoo parlors have popped up in suburban areas in response
to the demands of the younger generations, while some Baby Boomers
are reviving their flirtations with their inky past.
form of self-expression, once strictly reserved for bikers, sailors,
and other unsavory types, has found its way into the boardrooms
and backrooms of companies all over the world. Although the corporate
world is loosening up, not all Wall Street investment firms and
family-friendly malls are ready for studded and inked employees.
I think body art is viewed as a negative thing in the professional
world," said Cathy Cluff, director of operations, advertising, and
marketing at the Oaks at Ojai and The Palms at Palm Springs, two
California-based health and beauty spas. It may be a harsh reality
to accept, but fashion statements can cross the line of personal
expression into potentially career-damaging ideograms.
respect for diversity are keys to a successful policy
Companies can limit employees' personal expression on the job as
long as they do not impinge on their civil liberties. According
to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers
are allowed to 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.
percent of managers said their opinion of someone would be
lowered by that person's visible body art
percent of managers said they had tattoos or body piercings
in places other than the ears
percent of respondents think piercings in places other than
the ears are unprofessional
percent of respondents believe visible tattoos are unprofessional
Careerbuilder and Vault.com
much body art is decorative, fashion is not its exclusive purpose.
In the Maori culture of Polynesia, for example, it is customary
to apply tattoos to areas of the body including the face in a spiritual
practice known as Ta Moko.
resource experts will recommend that a company's dress code not
only adhere to the government regulations, but also be based on
legitimate business reasons, and be applied consistently. "This
type of issue speaks to things like gender, race, setting and enforcing
policy, and standing by that policy as well," said Mallary Tytel,
president and CEO of ETP, Inc., a Connecticut-based nonprofit health
and human resources development corporation.
application of a policy is an issue behind a recent lawsuit that
arose after Ameritech Corp. asked three of its telephone line technicians
to lose the jewelry, or lose the job. The company claimed that facial
jewelry could be a potential safety hazard. The employees fought
the "safety-based" policy and were subsequently suspended without
pay. The workers filed grievances with their union and are taking
part in an in-house investigation. The Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), a government agency designed to protect workers
on the job, said people working near electric lines, including telephone
workers, should refrain from wearing all types of jewelry. Unfortunately,
Ameritech's current policy only attacks non-traditional facial piercings,
and not ear piercings or other jewelry. The suspended linemen have
stated that they would return to work if the policy applied to all
jewelry and to all employees, a change that would follow the OSHA
rules to the letter.
sometimes argue that piercings and tattoos are inherently spiritual.
"Body art is a form of sacred self-expression," said Rose Pulda,
proprietor and senior body piercer of Miraculous Creations in Worcester,
Mass., a body art emporium. "There are as many reasons for getting
[piercings] as there are people getting them. But it's personal,
it's a deep soul kind of thing."
agreed that body art with religious and spiritual connotations falls
into a different category. "If you require business attire, the
key is to create a dress code including a body art policy," she
said. "This of course does not speak to tattoos, piercings, or body
art that have religious, ethnic, or cultural meanings."
art policy can be tied to corporate dress code
While managers offer varied advice on how to create a solid dress
code, most recognize that policies can differ across industries
and corporate cultures. "There are extremes," said Duncan Browne,
senior vice president of Newbury Comics, a Boston, Mass.-based chain
of music and comic retailers. "I don't think many employees of banks
display body art, but at a place like Newbury Comics, let your freak
agreed that policies are just as unique as the body art they regulate.
"It depends on the company's mission, goals, and desired outcomes,
in terms of identifying what's in the best interest of the corporation,"
she said. "You may want to tie your policy to a general dress code
policy - that way it provides a context."
should have a policy in place before conflict arises. "In our employee
manual, we have a section about employee personal appearance where
it says 'no excessive piercing and tattooing,'" said Browne. "We
wanted to make sure we have the option based on management discretion,
that if somebody is found to be excessive, we can do something about
it." Even though body art is prevalent among Newbury Comics employees,
the company has yet to dismiss an employee due to the policy.
used to say, "Get a haircut, son"
As body art becomes easier and safer to apply, the percentage of
employees reporting to work with body art increases. However, most
corporations do not have a policy in place, since it's only recently
that tattooing and piercing have become more mainstream. "Companies
need to look at how they are going to address this issue in the
future," said Tytel.
situation also addresses the generation gap between Baby Boomer
management and junior Gen X-ers, ironically recalling the cultural
divide in the late 1960s and early 1970s over facial hair and skirt
lengths. "As we start recruiting more high school and college graduates,
we have to start looking at different issues than when we entered
the workforce," said Tytel.
freedom of expression be good for business?
The justification for many corporate policies about appearance is
the impact on customers and other business associates. "Hiring a
person is ultimately about qualifications, but the employer does
have rights," said Tytel. If clients have a problem with certain
modes of dress or ornamentation, the human resources department
may have to take that into account when interviewing prospective
candidates. "The main thing is that if it makes one of our guests
uncomfortable, then we have to implement a policy to prevent that
from happening," said Cluff. "It's just like anything else - if
a person isn't willing to wear the uniform assigned to them, they
would not take the job, or they would receive a notice."
a similar rationale has justified many discriminatory practices
in the past - including not hiring women for executive positions
because of the impression it might make in certain international
settings; conducting business at exclusive country clubs because
it's what clients expect; and prohibiting hairstyles that are prevalent
among an ethnic minority that is not well represented in the company
in the first place. The most progressive companies keep an eye on
how the general culture changes, and revise their policies and practices
to keep pace.
taking a candidate out of the running because of body art isn't
always practical. "You'd obviously want to talk about the issue,
reach some compromises," said Tytel. "Can the person do the job?
If they are sitting in a computer lab, not dealing with clients,
perhaps it doesn't matter what they are wearing."
cautions HR professionals to separate their personal views from
their company's. Also, she recommends that companies work with their
clients to educate them about religious or cultural forms of expression
you never know: some clients may respond favorably to a pro-piercing
policy. Pulda, who sports many noticeable tattooes and piercings,
said, "I won't shop at a store that I know doesn't allow them -
and they're missing out, because I love to spend money."
Regina M. Robo, News Editor
and related reading
Letitia Baldridge - Amy
Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette
Clinton T. Greenleaf III - Attention
to Detail: A Gentleman's Guide to Professional Appearance and Conduct
Judith Martin - Miss
Manners Guide for the Turn of the Millennium
Peggy Post - Emily
Peggy Post and Peter Post - The
Etiquette Advantage in Business