Considering tattoos are now mainstream, news about a handful of applicants' visible tattoos being grounds for their not getting jobs serves as a good reminder on workplace personal appearance policies - for potential employees and employers.
The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune reported Feb. 14 about six of roughly 50 Hennepin County Sheriff's Department applicants were disqualified for tattoos. Citing how tattoos have been tied to gangs, drugs and violence, the county hires only officers whose tattoos can be covered with a short-sleeve shirt. The candidates either missed or ignored that rule, which the county said was explained as part of the application.
Application clarity aside, the lesson for both sides here involves knowing - and having - workplace policies involving body art.
After all, surveys from the United States to the United Kingdom show getting "inked" is growing in popularity, especially among workers in their 40s and younger. A 2008 online survey reported 36 percent of Americans ages 18-25 have a tattoo, as do 40 percent of those ages 26-40. In addition, 16 percent of those 30-44 have two tattoos.
So how does the mainstreaming of this body art affect job options and the organizations behind them?
The answers vary by the employer, which leads to the most important fact potential employees need to know:
Employers have the legal right to set policies about tattoos as part of their need to have workers present themselves in ways consistent with the organization's image.
While there may be rare exceptions for tattoos considered essential to one's religion, organizations are generally not legally bound to make reasonable accommodations for workers who have tattoos. Similarly, potential employees have no legal recourse if denied a job by an organization because their body art violates clearly defined policies.
In short, people with tattoos simply need to realize that - sooner or later - the choice to "get inked" can come with limitations in pursuing certain jobs and professions.
As for employers, while the law may be on their side for setting the rules, hiring realities today make it obvious policies about body art should be clear and flexible.
For example, just as the sheriff's ban on visible tattoos makes sense in that work environment, jobs where safety requires coveralls probably don't need to worry about tattoos on employees' extremities.
Of course, any business or organization is going to want to hire and retain the best-qualified employees, which is why these policies need to be clear and up to date.
Ultimately, the point of such policies is to make sure business isn't lost because of something over which that business has no control.