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Ask HR: “Can I require my employee to cover up her tattoo?”

Ask HR Tattoos at Work

In the world of human resources, nothing is off limits. Despite it being pigeonholed as the complaint department, HR is chock-full of tricky and questionable work situations that, if handled poorly, can create potentially costly liabilities for a company.

That’s where simplicityHR’s Ask HR series comes in! From serious to seriously strange, we’re here to simplify all your burning HR questions.

This HR question is one we hear quite a bit and it has to do with tattoos in the workplace. We reached out to our Maui Branch Manager, Theresa Munekata for her expert answer.


Ask HR: “One of my employees got a huge tattoo on her arm a few weeks ago. She’s a great worker, but I’m worried about what our customers will say. Can I legally ask her to cover up her tattoo?” 


Theresa MunekataTheresa: Yes, legally you can ask her to cover up her tattoo, provided of course that you ask all employees with visible tattoos to cover them up.

However, if she tells you that covering it up is against her religious belief, you cannot require it unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Moving her to a non-customer contact position because of assumed customer perception or preference would not be acceptable either.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act defines religion very broadly and protects all aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice. It prohibits disparate treatment, segregation, and harassment based on religion. It also requires accommodation and prohibits retaliation for requests.

Tattoos have become more mainstream and I’d say more accepted in the workplace than in year’s past. Take HPD [Honolulu Police Department] for example. Back in 2014, they made headline news when they rolled out a policy banning officers from displaying their tattoos. Just recently, that policy was reversed with HPD citing difficulty recruiting as one of the reasons for the change.

Got an HR head-scratcher?

Submit your HR question to our experts (it’s completely anonymous!) and it just might get answered in our next blog article.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.

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