Can employees be forced to cover tattoos and remove piercings?

It was recently reported that a school teacher was turned away from work at St John Vianney primary school in Hartlepool because she was “covered in tattoos”. Miss Tumility, the 26 year old teaching assistant had started her first day teaching at the Catholic school before being told she had to cover up her tattoos if she wanted to remain in class. Within the article, it was apparent that Miss Tumility also had several facial piercings which may have been identified at the stage of interview. It should have been at this stage that Miss Tumility be made aware that she would have to follow any policy in place regarding the dress code and expected appearance of staff.

As an employer you are well within your rights to enforce a dress code for your staff. Dress codes are often used within companies to express a corporate image through uniforms; for health and safety reasons (i.e. removal of jewellery or tying up long hair), or purely to portray the smart and professional ethos of the company through well-presented employees. These requirements can form part of company policy and if an employee is found to be breaching these requirements, formal action can be taken.

If there is a dress code policy in place it must be clear, of equal impact on men and women, be considerate of the needs of disabled people and devoid any form of unlawful discrimination. Can you turn someone away for having a tattoo on their leg? If it’s covered and doesn’t breach your rules then why would you? But if it breaches clear and communicated policies then it would be appropriate to take some action – a quiet word may be all that’s required in the first place. In all cases employers should have sound business reasons for their dress codes, e.g , tattoos must be covered rather than banning them outright.

What about religious dress? Employers need to objectively justify the reasons for banning items such as religious jewellery and should ensure they are not indirectly discriminating against these employees. This is something that should be handled with great care and MyHRdept can offer you advice when creating such policies.

If an employer does decide to adopt a dress code, it should be written down in a policy that is clearly communicated to all staff so they understand what standards are expected from them. Policies and procedures are in place for a reason and are key to maintaining consistency and preventing problems before they arise. Should you have any doubts about your policies and procedures then myHRdept are here to help. CLICK HERE for more information about policies and procedures.

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