Tattoos, Flip-flops, Yarlmukes… What’s an Employer to Do?

TatooOnce considered counterculture, tattoos in America are considered a form of expression and as such, are protected from criminal law by the Constitution. However, they are not federally protected in the workplace.

According to a Statistic Brain survey done in August of 2016, 45 million Americans have tattoos. In one study, when consumers were asked to rate tattooed and non-tattooed front-line staff, they showed a preference for non-tattooed individuals. However, another study revealed that grooming and business attire were more important indicators in the hiring decision than tattoos and piercings.

Tattoos have definitely grown in popularity, and have become much more mainstream. However, employers must remember that negative attitudes toward tattoos and piercings still exist. In a 2017 article by Suzanne Lucas of, it was reported that 42% of people feel that visible tattoos are inappropriate at work. And, any tattoo portraying nudity or violence is definitely out. Also, consider the extent of the tattoo. A large, colorful sleeve tattoo or a facial tat provokes a much different reaction than a small butterfly on someone’s ankle.

The key to having a successful tattoo/piercing policy appears to be consistent application because inconsistency could lead to claims of discrimination. Regina Robb, contributing writer to advises: “Companies can limit employees’ personal expression on the job as long as they do not impinge on their civil liberties.”

According to Kirsten Davidson, Head of Employer Brand at Glassdoor, “Labeling something taboo is dangerous for workplace transparency.” She notes in the article that many people look for companies that allow tattoos and piercings, as well as general differences from traditional work attire. Considering that Millennials will soon comprise the largest percentage of U.S. workers, and the fact that 40% of Millennials have tattoos, the assumption can be made that tattoos will only become more acceptable in the workplace.

Regarding the wearing of religious clothing/jewelry, The New York Post reported that an Italian man is suing an international consulting firm, claiming he was fired after repeatedly complaining to human resources that his colleagues made fun of his yarmulke.

Although there are many positive reasons for wearing religions clothing (self-expression, religious duty, cultural identification), there are negatives as well. Research tells us that religious discrimination does still exist in the workplace, and that religious expression may, at times, be bad for business by alienating potential customers. Some religious clothing may actually be hazardous in specific workplaces, such as manufacturing companies and healthcare settings.

What about flip-flops and other sandals? According to an article by Juli Alvarez, “Wearing flip-flops says you’ve given up.” Ms. Alvarez isn’t crazy about the ‘dirt-factor’ either. “You’re not just wearing flip-flops to the office, you’re wearing the filth your bare feet picked up on your way in.”

Other attire inappropriate for work, according to Clinton Kelly, host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” is: sleeveless shirts and shorts for men; crop tops and low-rider jeans for women. Kelly is okay with women leaving their legs bare with a skirt or tailored walking shorts, as well as strappy sandals, but he draws the line at “mandals” for men “because neither you, nor your feet, will be taken seriously.” Kelly’s advice about flip flops: “Don’t slip into your flip flops unless you have such a relaxed office that your boss’ boss wears them, too. Flip-flops are not appropriate for 95 percent of offices out there.”

According to Anthony Balderrama at, the following are also office no-no’s: shorts, tank tops, funny shirts or shirts from vacation destinations, and anything see-through. So although, tattoos have become more widely acceptable, there is still some variation in terms of appropriate office wear – and a lot depends on the specific business environment.


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