Jordan Moore got her first tattoo when she was 18. Now 21, she has a total of six tattoos covering most of her upper arm and thigh, among other locations. The most prominent of these must be covered up before every shift at the doctor’s office where she works.
“I’m not allowed to show off any of my tattoos because [my employers] don’t want to offend anybody or make our office look unprofessional,” said Moore, of Davenport, Iowa, who will begin studying to become a respiratory therapist next fall at Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Rock Island, Ill.
Many with body modifications like Moore’s — tattoos, piercings, implants — face similar mandates from employers. Federal law dictates that a citizen cannot be denied a job based on race, color, ethnicity, gender or religious beliefs. But can potential employees be passed over for a position — or even fired — because of past choices they’ve made to modify their body with tattoos and piercings?
Jane Schildroth, director of corporate and community relations at the University of Iowa Pomerantz Career Center, travels around the country speaking to potential employers. She said body modification has been less of a problem in recent years.
“We don’t hear employers really mention it,” Schildroth said. “At least, certainly not formally, that this is something [in an employee] that they would not ever consider.”
She did note that it might be an unspoken prejudice and that either way, a spectrum of opinions exists.
“I know there are a lot of companies that are very contemporary in their views and they want people to be comfortable, be themselves and get the work done — that’s not going to bother them,” Schildroth said. “We just know there are other companies on the other end of the spectrum.”
Moore’s tattoos are an integral part of her identity, and she is required to cover them up before work. She is not alone in this experience, either. USA TODAY reported Wednesday that a recent poll shows that 21% of all Americans have gone under the needle at some point.
Even with one in five Americans sporting tattoos, the possibility of facing stigma toward ink in the workplace exists, and without legal protections in place to prevent it. A few years ago, burger-chain Red Robin was fined $150,000 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for firing an employee with religious tattoos on his wrists that he could not conceal because of his beliefs.
However, that suit was for religious discrimination, not the tattoos themselves. Those remain unprotected by the government, and the decision is left to individual businesses.
“Employers are permitted to impose reasonable dress codes, which could include banning visible tattoos, within certain constraints,” said Justine Lisser, senior attorney advisor at the EEOC.. “…Additionally, employers must make reasonable accommodations, including exceptions to dress or grooming codes, for sincere religious beliefs. So, for example, if a particular religion mandated that adherents have a specific tattoo, the employer would have to make an exception with respect to that tattoo unless the exception would cause undue hardship.”
Though Moore’s tattoos aren’t for religious reasons, they are important to her and have drawn some negative attention in the past. She stressed that just because she has tattoos doesn’t necessarily make her unprofessional.
“One lady called me ‘tattoo girl’ condescendingly, which doesn’t bother me because why I have them is to show them off,” Moore said. “I love them. It doesn’t bother me when people don’t like them. It’s preference.”
While she’s been successful in securing employment so far, Moore admits she’s had to make some concessions in the process. Her employers were upfront with her in saying she couldn’t reveal her larger tattoos while on the clock, informing her in the interview.
“I’ve accepted that I’m probably going to have to cover ‘em up until this generation takes over businesses,” Moore said. “I think tattoos are becoming a lot more acceptable in the workplace than they used to be. Eventually, we’ll get to a point where they’re not as a big deal anymore.”
Powered by Facebook Comments