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Body Mods and Job Discrimination Issues


Question: Body Mods and Job Discrimination Issues
I got a part time job back in February. Up until now I have been wearing short sleeves. I have no obscene or racist ink or anything gang related. Recently my 2 day a week job was cut to one day a week and the other day my boss said, "You know, the customers all seem to like you, but a lot of them have said something about the tattoos. Could you please wear long sleeves from now on?"

What I want to know is do I have any rights at all? I have done nothing but go to work every day that she has asked me, done my job (more than perfectly, according to her), and been as nice as possible throughout all of this.

Answer: Unfortunately, tattoos and piercings are not (yet) protected by labor and/or discrimination laws. Employers are well within their rights to avoid hiring people with body art, ask you to cover them up or fire you if you don't. It's a disappointing truth and it's one of the many reasons I caution my readers about where they place their ink because it could damage their chances of getting the job of their choice. Since most of us need to work in order to survive, that's a sacrifice that sometimes has to be made.

If you have body art and need to find work, you have two basic options:

1. Find an employer that doesn't mind your body art - better yet, find one that considers it an asset.


2. Cover it up at the employer's request in order to keep your job.

There are several companies (chains that exist nationwide, too) that not only approve of body art but encourage it as a way of connecting with their customer base. Alternative shops, cocktail bars, eateries that include entertainment, etc. Not only will these places accept you for who you are, but they're a hell of a lot more fun to work at than some stuffy flower shop.

Some of the places around me that are body art friendly are B.D.’s Mongolian BBQ, Dave & Buster’s, Hot Topic, Torrid, Target, Aeropostale, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Claire’s, Spencer’s Gifts, Sally Beauty Supply, and probably many others. It’s just a matter of getting out there and finding them. Or maybe you could even find a job as a counter girl in a tattoo shop – if they have a problem with your ink, the world has officially turned upside down!

But, assuming that maybe you are trained as a horticulturist/botanist and want to work in the field you are trained in, there are still lots of flower shops out there. Why subject yourself to the hour cuts and verbal aspersions from this one place when you might be able to find something much better right around the corner? Not all flower shop people are pretentious. Especially ones you find in more artistic or alternative parts of town.

It’s all about what kind of image the employer wants to portray and even if they don’t have anything personally against body art, I suppose they may view it as “casual.” If it’s not a t-shirt and jeans kind of place to work, then tattoos and piercings probably aren’t going to fit in either. I’m not necessarily saying that I agree, but I can kind of see where they’re coming from. If it’s meant to be a professional environment, then tattoos are sometimes perceived in the same realm as denim and sneakers. If they can ask you not to wear jeans, they feel it’s pretty much the same thing to ask you not to “wear” (or show) your body art.

If you have the time and resources to learn a new skill, then there are fields of work that are more ink-and-piercing friendly, such as IT, cosmetics, mechanics, construction, and bartending to name a few. If you don’t have the money to learn one of these skills yet, but you want to, then you might just have to put your picket sign down and cover up the ink long enough to earn the money if that’s what it takes to reach the goals you make for yourself. It’s up to you if you don’t like your current situation – either put up, cover up and shut up or take the steps necessary to change it.

When my family and I moved to Indianapolis, my husband had to shave his beard and cut his 16-inch long hair to be even considered for a decent job. He is highly intelligent, a hard worker, honest and reliable, but the hair and beard stopped him in his tracks everywhere he went in search of a job. Was it fair? No. Would he have been justified if he rebelled and refused to change on the basis of his own freedom of expression? Probably. But he also might have ended up flipping burgers for half the pay he ended up with after putting aside his own ego and losing the hair. Now he’s got a great job that is okay with his beard, pierced ears and tattoos. Progress happens, albeit slowly. Sometimes you just have to be patient.

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