Can You Be Fired For Having a Tattoo?

Apr 5 2023

Amanda DeMatteis: Hi, Josh.

Josh Goodbaum: Hi, Amanda. What are we talking about today?

DeMatteis: We’re talking about tattoos today. Interesting topic for employment lawyers, but a lot of people have tattoos, my husband included. And this is coming up – it’s making its way through the press again. And what’s happening is that major companies – think Disney, UPS, Virgin Atlantic, even the United States Army – they’re relaxing their visible tattoo policies. So, look, we all know that it’s been taboo to have tattoos in the workplace, but maybe the landscape is changing a bit. So I thought we would talk to our viewers about: What does a Connecticut employee do if they get terminated because they have tattoos at work?

Goodbaum: I love tattoos. Don’t have any myself, but I’m an avid viewer of Inkmaster, as we have discussed, and I’m happy to be talking about this today.

If you get terminated for having a tattoo, the answer is there may not be anything you can do, but let’s break down why.

First, most employees are at-will employees. That means they can be terminated at any time for any reason or no reason at all, so long as it’s not an unlawful reason. That’s not true of folks who are in unions, for example. So unions and union membership might provide a protection for people with tattoos.

There is no law that directly prohibits a termination or any other adverse employment consequences for having a tattoo. But there might be some laws that indirectly prohibit termination for having a tattoo.

If you have a tattoo because of its religious, ethnic, or cultural significance, then termination for having that tattoo might be tied to discrimination on one of those protected bases. Or you might be entitled to an accommodation for the tattoo if you have it for a religious reason, and that’s true even if it’s not for one of the mainstream religions, like Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism. It might be a smaller religion. It might be a personal religion. It doesn’t need to be an organized religion to be entitled to certain employment protections.

Remember, if you are trying to do something in your workplace as an accommodation, you have to ask for the accommodation. So, if your employer comes to you and says, “You can’t have that tattoo showing,” and you say, “My religion requires it,” you need to say that “I’m looking for an accommodation on the basis of my religion.”

In Connecticut, we also have an unusual law called 31-51q that protects certain kinds of employee conduct, including free speech protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and a corollary provision of the Connecticut Constitution. Now, tattoos often for people are a form of self-expression. They might even be protected expression. They could be protected by 31-51q. It’s not entirely clear, but it’s something worth exploring if you’ve been terminated because you have some ink.

Finally, it’s important that your employer, whatever their policy, be implementing their policy consistently. So, if you got terminated for having a tattoo and you’re a woman, but the men in the workplace all have tattoos, well, that’s not termination because of a tattoo. That’s termination because you’re a woman, and that’s sex discrimination, right? If only the LGBTQ people in the workplace are being hassled for their ink, but not the straight folks, again, that looks like discrimination.

So, there may be some protections for folks with tattoos. Not as clear in the law as some people might like, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do if something bad happens to you because you have tattoos.

DeMatteis: I love this, and I love that we’re talking about it. Thank you so much for the information, and thanks as always for watching. Take care.

Goodbaum: Thanks, Amanda.

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amanda dematteis discussing being fired for having a tattoo in the workplace

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