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Starbucks Changes Its Tattoo Policy; Should You?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 20, 2014 8:58 AM

Starbucks employees can now show off their tattoos at work after a change in Starbucks' customer-facing tattoo policy.

Before the switch, baristas and other workers who were dealing with Starbucks customers would have to cover their tattoos, resulting in lots of sweaty dudes in long sleeves. Now, Forbes reports that Starbucks has lifted this workplace tattoo embargo, allowing all inked skin to breathe free -- except face tattoos.

Should your company drink the Koolaid pumpkin spice latte and follow Starbucks' lead?

Employee Tattoo Policy Is Mostly Up to You

Regardless of what Starbucks chooses to do, the way your company handles tattoos is pretty much up to you, the business owner. Most companies incorporate how they treat employee tattoos in their dress or appearance codes. A general policy that prohibits customer-facing employees from displaying tattoos while at work isn't going to raise many legal eyebrows.

However, if you have a general prohibition on displaying tats at work, make sure that you allow accommodations for tattoos which are part of a religious or cultural practice. This may encourage employees to lie about the nature of their tattoos, but it is better than being sued for racial or religious discrimination.

But remember, it's OK to draw the line somewhere. USA Today reports that even Starbucks doesn't allow tats on the face or throat, so the neck line might not be a bad line to draw.

Look Beyond the Tattoos

It isn't illegal to ask a potential employee about his or her tattoos, but you may not be evaluating him or her properly. Forbes recommends that like Starbucks, business owners cut loose their hang-ups about employees with tattoos. You may pass up on a fantastic employee if you're blinded by his or her tattoos.

Refusing Tattooed Customers

Depending on the atmosphere you want to engender in your business, you may consider refusing to serve customers with visible tattoos. Persnickety customer dress codes can be legal par for the course at many restaurants and clubs, and assuming your tattoo policy isn't simply a proxy for discrimination, your policy can be just as legit.

Still, you may want to think carefully about any policy that would refuse customers outright for any tattoos -- it may end up excluding some valuable customers (*cough* celebrities *cough*).

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