Tat­toos, nose rings com­pli­cate mod­ern of­fice dress codes

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Madlen Read

NEW YORK — Colleen Har­ris doesn’t fit the stereo­type of the but­toned-up li­brar­ian. Her arms are cov­ered with a pi­rate queen mo­tif and black scrolling tat­toos, which ex­tend down the side of her body to her an­kle. A black rose and the words “dan­ger­ous magic” adorn the back of her left hand and the words “anam cara,” old Gaelic for “soul friend,” let­ter her knuck­les.

The 27-year-old, who has mul­ti­ple masters de­grees and a job at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky’s re­search li­brary, feels no pres­sure to cover up.

“It’s not re­ally pos­si­ble at this point, un­less I wore gloves,” Miss Har­ris said, adding that she thinks academia has been more ac­cept­ing of her body art than the cor­po­rate world would be. “I think my qual­i­fi­ca­tions should speak for them­selves.”

The face of the young Amer­i­can worker is chang­ing, and it’s in­creas­ingly dec­o­rated with ink and metal.

About half of peo­ple in their 20s have ei­ther a tat­too or a body pierc­ing other than tra­di­tional ear­rings, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in June in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Academy of Der­ma­tol­ogy. And that fig­ure is grow­ing, said Anne Lau­mann, the study’s co-au­thor and a der­ma­tol­o­gist at North­west­ern Univer­sity.

Just three years ago, ac­cord­ing to a Har­ris Interactive poll con­ducted at the time, 36 per­cent of 25- to 29-year-olds had tat­toos, com­pared with 16 per­cent of Amer­i­cans of all ages.

As a re­sult, em­ploy­ers are find­ing that dress codes may need up­dat­ing. In some cases, bosses are loos­en­ing up to at­tract young tal­ent. In oth­ers, man­agers are adding new rules to keep body art cov­ered up.

“In the past, there were very gen­eral dress codes. Now, I see dress codes that are five pages long,” said David Bar­ron, a lawyer with Ep­stein Becker Green Wick­liff & Hall PC. “Em­ploy­ers see a need to be very, very spe­cific and draw lines very clearly.”

At the med­i­ca­tion fla­vor­ing com­pany Flavorx — where the av­er­age em­ployee is about 28 years old — chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer Woodie Neiss re­cently told hu­man re­sources to add a body art sec­tion to the dress code af­ter an em­ployee showed up to work with an eye­brow pierc­ing.

A siz­able por­tion of his 40 em­ploy­ees have body art, Mr. Neiss said. He knows it be­cause he’s seen them show it off to each other in the of­fice.

“Do what­ever you want to your body, but I don’t want to be sub­jected to it in the work­place,” Mr. Neiss said. He added that body art can be a dis­trac­tion, and es­pe­cially im­por­tant to hide when in­vestors visit the of­fice.

Usu­ally, it’s a sim­ple mat­ter of dis­cus­sion and com­pro­mise. Most pierc­ings are on the face, ac­cord­ing to the re­cent study, but they can be re­moved. Only about 15 per­cent of peo­ple with tat­toos have them on their face, neck or hands, the study showed, so the rest can be cov­ered by cloth­ing.

Michael Sacks, 24, who works at the pub­lic re­la­tions firm SheaHedges Group in McLean, Va., has three tat­toos: on his stom­ach, the ini­tials of a friend who died; on his back, the word “per­sis­tence;” and on his an­kle, his fra­ter­nity let­ters, Phi Gamma Delta. None can be seen when he is wear­ing his work clothes, and he says that’s in­ten­tional.

“It’s a vis­i­bil­ity is­sue. No one cares what you have on your body as long as you don’t have to look at it,” Mr. Sacks said. “I want to be per­ceived as a pro­fes­sional.”

It all de­pends on the in­dus­try. Miss Har­ris, the li­brar­ian, worked in cor­po­rate tech­nol­ogy sales be­fore her li­brary science de­grees and tat­toos. Her only vis­i­ble body art was a nose stud, but she vol­un­tar­ily re­moved it while at work.

“It’s a mat­ter of cater­ing to your clien­tele, no mat­ter where you are,” she said.

For some com­pa­nies, al­low­ing body art can be a boon — it at­tracts young work­ers that may not feel wel­come in more con­ser­va­tive en­vi­ron­ments, said Paul Forster, CEO of the job search Web site In­deed.com (which shows that post­ings for tat­too artists have surged in the past year). Mr. Forster al­lows body art in the of­fice, and about a quar­ter of his 25 em­ploy­ees have it.

“Most work is done via e-mail, in­stant mes­sage, over the phone. We don’t have those face-to-face is­sues,” Mr. Forster said.

Of course, at work­places like de­sign firms, sa­lons and re­tail­ers tar­get­ing the young de­mo­graphic, hir­ing em­ploy­ees with body art is par for the course. Joe Duffy — CEO of the de­sign firm Duffy & Part­ners, which has de­vel­oped brand­ing for com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Coca-Cola, BMW and Star­bucks — said he hired a young wo­man about a year ago who used her tat­toos as part of her ap­pli­ca­tion port­fo­lio.

But in tra­di­tion­ally suit-andtie ser­vice in­dus­tries, bosses want body art hid­den, ac­cord­ing to Talar Her­cu­lian, an em­ploy­ment lawyer with Fisher & Phillips LLP in Irvine, Calif. — and that means go­ing about re­strict­ing it legally. More em­ploy­ers err on the side of be­ing too vague about their dress code rather than too strict, she said, and that’s when prob­lems emerge.

“Most peo­ple who don’t have coun­sel don’t re­al­ize what their rights are. They’re afraid to im­pose re­stric­tions. You can be very strin­gent,” Miss Her­cu­lian said. If a dress code is put into writ­ing and doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate be­tween the sexes, it can be en­forced legally, as long as em­ploy­ers are open to ne­go­ti­at­ing com­pro­mises for health or re­li­gious rea­sons.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Colleen Har­ris, a li­brar­ian at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky’s re­search li­brary who has mul­ti­ple masters de­grees, says her full-arm tat­toos are more ac­cepted in academia than they would have been in the cor­po­rate world.

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