Ask the HR Pro: Are Tattoos, Piercings, and Flip-Flops Acceptable in the Workplace?

Want to know how other managers and HR Pros would deal with a sticky workplace issue?

This is an ongoing feature where we take a workplace or HR-related question sent to us by a TLNT.com reader and ask members of our TLNT LinkedIn group to give us their thoughts and perspectives on it.

What do you think? Do you agree with the responses here, or do you have a completely different perspective? Please let us know by leaving your response here, and feel free to send questions to me here at john@tlnt.com, or post them on the TLNT LinkedIn group. We will use the best responses in a future column.

DEAR HR PRO: Should my company allow tattoos, piercings, or flip-flops at work? Is a strong policy that prohibits these kinds of things for employees hurting my organization? Are we possibly losing talented potential employees either because they are disqualified due to the dress code or opt to self-select out of the hiring process?

Here are some of the responses we received from managers, executives, and HR professionals:

  • “As a hiring manager, I would not disqualify someone for having a tattoo if it was in good taste. Yes, I realize this is subjective, but I can distinguish between a butterfly on someone’s forearm vs. a tattoo of something/someone being killed. I hired someone a few years ago who did have a piercing on her eyebrow, but she didn’t wear the ring to work. Flip-flops are permitted, but on casual Fridays only.

The one thing that is a no-no is wearing tee-shirts / sweatshirts with lewd, racial, sexual or discriminatory pictures or writing.”

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— Cynthia Travella, HR consultant, communications & employment brand specialist in the Kansas City, Missouri area.

  • “Interesting question. Some tattoos and piercings should never be visible to a hiring manager. Seriously it would depend on the environment, culture, interaction with public, job requirements, etc. The flip-flop issue could be addressed from a safety standpoint and be easy to enforce from that angle. Having worked predominantly in the high tech field, I haven’t run across much dress code issues. Usually it has been a typical start up environment, where the dress is casual but not sloppy.”

– Catherine DiGennaro, accomplished HR executive ands serial entrepreneur in the Washington, D.C. area.

  • “I have a Hindu friend with a nose ring (a tiny diamond stud,) her mother’s name tattooed on one wrist and her father’s name tattooed on the other — in their respective languages from Northern and Southern India. The nose ring is cultural, the tattoos aren’t — but they are tasteful, creative and respectful. I’m a fan of companies that consider whether a candidate’s expressions of individuality are a strong match for the position and the company’s culture. Businesses looking for creative and multi-cultural talent may have to rethink how they define the “rules”… As for flip-flops, I guess it depends on the job. Frankly, I look at people’s work product and results, not their feet, but I sit at a desk all day…”

— Rachelle Lockhart, Director of Corporate Communications at Perspectives, Ltd., in the greater Chicago area.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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