February 2022 | Volume 13, Issue 7
According to the article, tattoos can be a controversial subject within the workplace, with some employees choosing to cover theirs up and remain silent. But the conversation is picking up after a woman challenged the stigma in a now-viral LinkedIn post containing her professional work headshot where she does not hide the ink on her arms.
Jessica Leonard, who began a new role recently at Evolution Capital Partners, a private equity firm, got a new professional photo taken about a month ago. She wanted to use a photo of her not wearing a jacket for personal use on her LinkedIn page but planned to take another photo of her wearing the jacket and obscuring her tattoos for the headshot that would be used on the company's website.
According to the post on LinkedIn, when she asked her manager for permission, he said, "Let’s roll with the tattoos in both!
"'Loud and proud' is what he said," Leonard said. "I read the text message aloud and I was literally brought to tears. And then my husband got a little emotional about it too. It was such a shocking response to have that kind of inclusion from someone that you work for, and just overall acceptance of who I am."
For years, she had received comments expressing surprise at showing her tattoos, calling them inappropriate or telling her that people would not take her seriously, Leonard wrote on her LinkedIn post.
Leonard has tattoos on both arms, with one covered from shoulder to wrist and the other displaying a Harry Potter-themed owl tattoo running from her elbow to her wrist.
"I had grown accustomed to wearing long sleeves in the heat of summer, to tugging on my suit coat sleeves in every meeting," Leonard said on LinkedIn, "Very often, I simply felt that I needed to be careful about when I was being too freely me."
Leonard also recalls pulling her hair around her ears so that no one could see the tattoo behind her ear and avoiding getting leg or ankle tattoos for fear of never being able to wear a skirt in a business setting.
"I think everyone needs to go where they feel comfortable in their skin," Leonard said. "They shouldn't feel like they work in an environment where it's hindering them as an individual. There are a lot of places you can work where you're not going to feel that."
Tattoos and their role in the workplace continue to split employers. According to job search site Indeed, allowing tattoos can promote individuality and attract a greater array of applicants, but customers or clients may not approve of them.
Attitudes toward tattoos may be changing as tattoos become more mainstream, according to The Harris Poll, an American market research and analytics company.
A 2015 survey of 2,225 U.S. adults by The Harris Poll found 29% of people, or about three out of 10, have tattoos.
- As the article indicates, Jessica Leonard’s employer did not mind the display of her arm tattoos on either her LinkedIn page or the company’s website. Suppose the facts were different, Ms. Leonard’s employer did oppose the display of her arm tattoos in her professional capacity, and the employer disciplined or fired her as a result. Would the employer’s actions in this scenario violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Why or why not?
The employer’s actions in this scenario would not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, or culture, but it does not prohibit discrimination based on personal appearance.
- Are there any legal protections available to an employee who is subject to an adverse employment decision because of personal appearance? If so, describe the source of those legal protections.
Although federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on personal/physical appearance, there are some protections available at the local level. Washington, D.C., for example, has enacted laws prohibiting all personal appearance discrimination. Additionally, cities such as Urbana, Illinois and Madison, Wisconsin have passed laws banning discrimination in employment based on a person’s “personal appearance” and “physical appearance,” respectively.
- In your reasoned opinion, should employers be prohibited from discriminating against employees due to personal appearance (such as tattoos?) Explain your response.
This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. In your author’s opinion, employers should be given flexibility in terms of deciding whether an employment candidate “looks” the part for the job, if this determination is not based on the categories of discrimination specifically prohibited by federal, state, and/or local anti-discrimination law. Additionally, the federal government should give state and local governments flexibility to determine whether to heighten protection against discrimination within their particular jurisdiction.