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Can you ban Tattoos and Piercings?

New research has been published this week by Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) regarding workplace dress codes, entitled ‘Dress codes and appearance at work: Body supplements, body modification and aesthetic labour’. Readers may be aware of this, as amongst other findings within the study, the subject of tattoos has hit the headlines.
On the whole, how individuals dress and appearance within the workplace can be significant in terms of how a brand, or a business are represented and perceived. The approach a business takes towards their dress code, including tattoos, piercings and appropriate clothing will vary from business to business. It is, however, important for employers to ensure that they have an up to date dress code policy in place. Such a policy may not only address clothing but also the business’ position on tattoos and piercings. Having such a policy in place should ensure that both employers and employees are clear on all of the requirements when it comes to appropriate dress, and appearance whilst at work.

Dress code policy

Employers do not have to allow employees to wear any clothing that the employee wishes, or to allow piercings and/or tattoos to be visible whilst at work, (subject to certain protected characteristics). As such the approaches taken by employers will be different depending on the type of work that the business carries out, and the type of environment that individuals will be working in, for example, an office environment may wish to adopt a corporate image with smart business attire, where visible tattoos and piercings may not be deemed appropriate, whilst a factory shop floor is likely to adopt a different approach, including necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) and possibly a set uniform. In some workplaces a uniform may be required, which may be supplied by the employer, or the employee may be required to supply their own clothes of a description set out in the policy, for example, a plain white shirt.
Depending on the nature of the role an individual is undertaking, optional wording may be included within a policy/staff handbook which requires certain employees to cover visible tattoos and/or to remove or cover visible body piercings, this could for example affect those in client facing roles. If this is the approach that a business chooses to take, we would advise that there be a sound business reason for asking the employee in question to either cover a tattoo, or to cover or remove a piercing, for example health and safety concerns, as an employee may have a religious reason for a particular piercing, i.e. wearing a nose stud. As such employers should proceed with caution when placing outright bans.

Practical advice for employers

• Each workplace is different and therefore the requirements of a dress code policy should be considered on a case by case basis.

• Employer’s should be aware that any dress code rules that discriminate, either directly or indirectly, on the grounds of sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender reassignment or age, may fall foul of the Equality Act 2010. Readers may recall the recent case of a temporary worker who was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels at work, this was clearly discriminatory.

• It is good practice when drafting or updating a dress code policy, for an employer to consider the reasoning behind the policy, i.e. health and safety concerns or company image, and in some circumstances employers may choose to consult with employees over any proposed dress code, as this may ensure that the code is acceptable to both the business and the employees.

• When policies are in place it is important that employers ensure that they are applied consistently to all employees.
We would advise that all businesses regularly review their dress code policy and staff handbooks.

Food for thought

It could potentially be argued that it was indirectly age discriminatory to ban tattoos and piercings!

Please contact Lindsey or Sarah within our employment law team at [email protected] or on 0161 478 3800 should you require further information regarding drafting and reviewing of policies and staff handbooks.


Can you ban Tattoos and Piercings?

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