Visible Tattoos, Other Dress Code Issues Arise in Warmer Weather

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LeisingerDana2015We have a strict no visible tattoos policy as we work with a very conservative population. We hired a new employee recently, and when he reported to work today, he was wearing the company-mandated short-sleeved shirt revealing heavily tattooed lower arms. Can we rescind our offer of employment?

Tattoos do not typically fall within a “protected category” (from discrimination), so usually—the answer would be yes, it is safe to stick to your company policy and rescind your offer.

Tattoos: Visible or Religious

Although tattoos are increasing in popularity, it is still within an employer’s right to mandate no visible tattoos. Usually the employee can adhere to the policy by wearing long-sleeved shirts, but when the weather turns warm or the nature of the work is such that long-sleeved shirts interfere with job duties, the long-sleeved shirt might not be feasible.

One other issue to consider is when the tattoos are for a religious purpose. Although this is not a frequent occurrence, should the employee claim the tattoos are religious, the employer should attempt a reasonable accommodation. This could mean a transfer to a less visible position, but again, be cautious not to discriminate.

Appearance Standards

Warmer weather triggers a number of other dress code issues, testing many employers’ policies.

Employers often have a “maintain a professional appearance” dress code, which can be challenging when the weather is hot. It is permissible to ban flip-flops, open-toed shoes, shorts, tank tops, and other unacceptable clothing.

Employers are justifiably concerned about violating any laws when restricting dress codes, but discrimination laws generally do not inhibit your right to determine appropriate workplace dress. In fact, you have a lot of discretion in setting appearance standards. In a conservative business, this also is a job-related issue when customers might complain about inappropriate attire.

Another complication stems from generational issues. The workplace has become more casual, and younger generations think their understanding of “business casual” is entirely appropriate, when management may disagree. The traditional needs of business clothing have changed dramatically.

Best Practice

The best practice is to make it as clear as possible what is acceptable. It is important to communicate your expectations with your employees. Therefore, sometimes “maintain a professional appearance” might not be adequate, and a specific description of what is not appropriate might be a better practice.


The Labor Law Helpline is a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.

Staff Contact: Dana Leisinger

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Dana Leisinger
About Dana Leisinger
Dana Leisinger joined the CalChamber in 2000 and currently serves as an HR adviser. She has advised employers on matters such as employment law, wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and wage and hour issues. She also has conducted seminars and training and guided employers through various levels of governmental investigations. Leisinger holds a J.D. from the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific.