For The Record

Americans are getting tattoos “at a remarkable rate,” writes law professor Steve Allred. His point? That America’s workers therefore are, too, and employers aren’t always OK with it.

In an October article in Labor Law Journal called “Rejecting the Tattooed Applicant,” Allred took a look at how courts have ruled in disputes between prospective and current employees and the employers who reject, discipline, or discharge them.

Public employees and applicants have typically made equal protection or free speech claims, he writes. Among the disputes he recounts is one involving Hartford, Connecticut, police officers with tattoos that their “chief understood ... to signify support for white supremacy” and another involving a bike patrol officer who was reassigned to a position where he could wear long pants that would cover tattoos on his legs and elsewhere.

Private employers are also involved in the cases Allred recounts. In one, a restaurant worker sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents employers from discriminating on the basis of religion, after his employer fired him for refusing to cover two religious tattoos on his wrist.

According to Allred’s analysis of these and other cases, the news for the tattooed is not good.

“Employers have wide latitude in taking such actions,” he writes. But he also cautions employers “to think carefully about whether their decision to reject a tattooed applicant is grounded in a legitimate business purpose or whether their decision to discipline a tattooed employee may be challenged as disparate treatment.”