Tattoos in the Workplace Go to Court

When most people think of coffee shop employees, they think of hipster types with multi-colored hair, piercings and tattoos. However, if you have visible tattoos, Starbucks may not be the best place for you to be employed. A strict policy stating that visible tattoos are not allowed has always been around, but rarely and not consistently enforced.

Kayla, a tattooed Starbucks barista from Rochester Hills, MI has been employed with the company for several years. Recently she was given an ultimatum – get rid of the tattoo or find a new job.

“What I was told by my manager and my district manager was that you have 30 days to begin a removal process for the tattoo or you must resign from your job.”

Kayla maintains that her tiny heart tattoo on her hand, between her thumb and forefinger, was never discussed during or after her interview. She doesn’t even recall any policy being mentioned. Yet now she has 30 days to start the removal process or lose her job. The heart tattoo is the size of a penny and once Kayla was informed of the policy, she started using makeup to cover it up. However, that doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on management. Starbucks has only said that “Our tattoo policy states that [employees] cannot have visible tattoos. This is part of our dress code policy and is discussed with our candidates during the interview process.”

Discrimination Violation

In a similar situation, Benjamin Amos had tattoos when he was hired by Starbucks. According to Amos, no one mentioned them during the seven years he was employed and working his way up to shift manager. Amos knew about and followed the corporate dress policy and kept his tattoos covered while working.

In February 2008, his store manager told him that the regional and district managers didn’t like his tattoos and asked him to resign. Amos refused. A few days later he was fired. Amos filed a discrimination lawsuit citing violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that female employees also have tattoos, but are still employed with the company.

Turning Over a New Leaf

In a recent turn of events, Starbucks has said that it is reviewing its corporate dress code policy – including its policy against visible tattoos. After a petition to put an end to the tattoo policy gathered around 23,000 signatures, Starbucks sent an internal email to its employees stating that they are now reviewing their dress code.

Starbucks may want to weigh the internal culture they want to foster. If they are looking to recruit talented creative types, perhaps allowing a flash of tattoo would open up the candidate pool and make employees feel that they work at a pretty hip place.


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