While your body piercings or tattoos may be fantastic expressions of your personhood, Massachusetts employers are not required to appreciate their greatness. If you have a body piercing or tattoo, or are thinking of getting one, you should know that your employer can probably make you remove it, cover it up, or even fire you because of it.
Massachusetts is an at-will employment jurisdiction, so employees can generally be terminated for any reason— or for no reason! This allows either the employer or the employee to end the work relationship at any time. One set of exceptions is that employers cannot fire employees because of a protected legal status, such as gender, disability, or religion. However, having body piercings or tattoos is not, by itself, a protected class or status. (You can see a full list of Massachusetts’ protected classes here.)
Federal and Massachusetts courts have upheld employee dress and appearance codes— including policies on body piercings and tattoos— as long as they are enforced fairly and do not discriminate against a person because of a protected status.
It might be possible for you to have a successful lawsuit against an employer if you showed that the body art policy targeted a protected class, or was unfairly enforced between employees of different legal statuses.
It might also be possible to argue that requiring you to remove body piercings or to cover a tattoo is a form of discrimination against your protected status, if your piercing or tattoo represents your membership in a legally protected class, and if your employer refuses to make reasonable accommodations for you. However, courts have been reluctant to find that piercings and tattoos are protected expressions of race or religion. And unless this is a government job, forget about free speech. The First Amendment only protects individuals against federal or state actions.
In many cases, the employer is not against your body art. Employers may wish to enforce dress and appearance codes to create a neat, clean, or professional image. He or she might be concerned about discouraging potential customers and clients, since some people still find piercings and tattoos offensive.
So, if your boss asks you to remove or cover a body piercing or tattoo, you may want to ask yourself whether it is worth losing your job over. Your employer can probably fire you if you refuse. If you have legal questions about body art, dress codes, or other employment issues, contact the attorneys at Hutchins Law, P.C.