It may surprise you, but some discrimination in hiring is perfectly legal. Discrimination is only illegal if employees are treated unjustly because of characteristics that are protected by law. In the United States of America, race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability and genetic information are all protected by laws enforced by EEOC.

However, dress code items including tattoos and piercings are not protected.

Dress code

Body decorations actually fall under the blanket of dress code and office appearance. This tends to make sense in many cases. A business is allowed to decide that wearing jewelry while working on an assembly line is too dangerous, so they instead prohibit jewelry within the workspace.

Employees who are required to interact with customers may have to cover up tattoos in order to maintain a specific perception of the company. Companies that have those type of policies are usually trying to create the best situation for their continuity and success.

In the same way that a suit or uniform may be required at some jobs, often tattoos and piercings are allowed as long as they are not visible.

Employers have rights just like employees do. If an employee is given instructions to cover body decorations to be in compliance with the company-wide dress code and they fail to do so, an employer is free to treat the infraction as indicated in their dress code.

Getting hired with a tattoo

Some people may think it is a good idea to cover up their tattoos during the interview process and never show them at work. This may work if your boss never asks about tattoos, but don’t be surprised if your superiors get upset after seeing a photo taken outside of work. While your tattoo may not have been affecting your performance at work, it can be interpreted as intent to deceive your employer. Let them know that you have a tattoo, but that you are okay with keeping it covered at all times while on the job.

If you would like to be employed in a space where showing your tattoos or piercings is accepted, make sure they are visible during the job interview. If you can, find out the policies ahead of time to be sure you’re in compliance. 

If they are not visible and your employer asks if you have any tattoos, they are within their rights to ask. If they will never be visible because of their location on your body, be sure to still answer the question honestly.