Dreadlocks, Tattoos, and the EEOC

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Does your company have appearance guidelines? Many companies have instituted policies against dreadlocks and tattoos. What is your practice in handling these when they are religious based? In my experience, companies with policies against dreadlocks will ask applicants if they are willing to cut them. If an applicant says it’s religious, a common follow up question is “what religion?” In previous conversations that I have had, I have heard “Rastafarian is the only religion that has dreadlocks,” when there are other religious practices that include dreadlocks. What if they are not Rastafarian? What if they say it is just a personal or spiritual belief?

According to a poll from Fox News, 1 in 5 Americans have tattoos. Many companies don’t want these tattoos visible in the workplace. Visible tattoos are typically those on the hands, wrists, face, and neck. Some companies do not any additional items to cover the visible tattoos, which could eliminate someone with visible tattoos. What if the tattoos have a religious basis? You may think of asking “what religion has tattoos?”
When asking “what religion” in the interview process the person conducting the interview could be putting your company at risk if they base their decision to hire on whether or not they believe this is a valid answer.
An important note is that the EEOC includes both theistic, and non-theistic beliefs under title VII. Theistic beliefs include the more common, familiar religions, while the non-theistic beliefs include “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” So essentially, it doesn’t matter what religion they are.

Title VII of the EEOC requires companies to make a reasonable accommodation, as long as it would not cause an undue hardship on the employer. Employers should engage in the interactive process to determine what accommodations can be made.

It is important to consider the purpose of the appearance guideline policies, and whether they are for a legitimate business purpose. Does having tattoos or dreadlocks impact the business? That is for you and your company attorney to determine.

I think that companies should loosen up these policy restrictions. This is a great way to encourage diversity in the workplace. Companies should be flexible enough to allow dreadlocks to at least be held in a hat. When it comes to tattoos, I think we should loosen up restrictions as long as there is not offensive/explicit content visible on the tattoo.

This is an opinion blog article exploring the possible impact of the EEOC, title VII rules on hiring practices. I am not an attorney, and this is not intended to be legal advice. I suggest consulting an attorney before making any decisions relevant to the content in this article.

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This blog post has been mirrored from HRM America: Dreadlocks, Tattoos, and the EEOC
  • C Grant on 2014-07-24 3:28:00 PM

    my attorney would not be far out the door before returning to help me determing what is "offensive/explicit." Jesus's bleeding body on the cross on the arm of a worker- another question of religion.

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