As body art and piercings become more common among young people, employers are facing challenges that seemed unimaginable before the 1960s, which represented the first loosening of personal grooming standards. The boom in facial piercings--particularly through the nose--has only further upped the ante in workplace dress code confrontations. However, as long as an employer can show their requirements are not discriminatory, the employee may have to forgo the piercing.
Tracking the popularity of piercings is difficult, but there is little doubt of the gap between young people and employers. More women pierce their bodies than men, with the nose emerging as the most popular site, according to James Weber, medical liaison for the Association of Professional Piercers. However, a 2006 survey of human resource managers showed that 35.9 per cent had company dress codes that addressed body piercings.
Reasons for Removal
Requiring employees to shed facial piercings except for earrings is rooted in reasons that depend on a particular company's culture. In keeping with its conservative image, Wal-Mart, America's largest non-governmental employer, has developed specific bans against eyebrow, lip and nose piercings. Safety is another reason cited by employers like Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Ameritech, who maintain that loose jewellery can become entangled with clothing.
Pierced employees have gained little ground in suing to protect their preference, as shown in Cloutier v. Costco. In that case, a federal court upheld the firing of Kimblery Cloutier, who claimed a religious belief in refusing to remove an eyebrow piercing. However, the court held that Cloutier's firing did not amount to discrimination, since her Church of Body Modification membership did not require piercings to be worn at all times.
In ruling against Clouiter, the federal district and appellate courts hearing her case supported Costco on one other significant point. While nobody had complained about the piercing, both courts agreed it had the potential to affect perceptions of the company's image--especially for someone like Cloutier, whose cashier's job required constant interaction with customers. Overall, employers may impose dress and appearance codes, so long as they do not discriminate on age, colour, gender, national origin, race or religion.
Not all religious claims may be brushed aside. As Weber told "Diversity" magazine, executives of colour may have an easier time getting exemptions for their piercings--such as East Indians who may practice Ayurvedic medicine, which associates nostril piercing with female reproduction. Even then, however, an employer may still argue that their interest trumps the belief, leaving employees with a stark choice--to lose the piercing, or find another job that allows it.
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