Tattoos are freedom of expressions, right? As long as you are of age you have a legal right to decorate your skin. While this right is derived from privacy and freedom of speech, does this right to expression translate to a business environment? Could you even be fired for showing your tattoos?

Benjamin Amos, a Starbucks employee in Dallas had tattoos at the time he was hired. For seven years Amos performed well enough to receive multiple promotions, during which time the tattoos were of no concern as he complied with store policy and covered them while he was working. In 2008 he was told by management that Starbucks regional and district management did not approve of the tattoos. He was asked to resign, and when he refused, he was fired. Amos then filed a suit in a federal district court claiming that Starbucks violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

While an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of gender, race, age or disability, they can ask that they’re workers comply with grooming and appearance rules. These also cannot discriminate in any way but can ask that men trim their beards, women wear dresses or skirts etc. They cannot limit these to only women wearing uniforms or employees of a certain religion cannot be told that they have to remove head or face garments.
When it comes to tattoos however, an employer is more than likely allowed to have a rule against visible tattoos. The problem Amos encountered was that Starbucks argued that despite their allowance of female employees to have tattoos, his could be deemed “offensive” where the female employees’ were not. A court would have to decide whether or not the tattoos could be deemed offensive. Another option if tattoos put an employee at risk of losing their job is for them to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and they can always talk with an attorney about further options.

Some further questions on this topic you can ask an attorney are:

  • Can employers choose which designs they are willing to accept and which ones they deem offensive?
  • My tattoos are not a problem for my employer, however, am I at risk of being fired for facial piercings?
  • Can I be fired for my tattoos if they are visible when I am not at work and my employer views them as a bad representation of company standards?


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