Body Mods In the Workplace – Corporate BS Meets Ignorance and Prejudice

A couple of weeks ago, while checking out at the supermarket, I noticed that the guy who was bagging my groceries was wearing a band-aid on his ear. My first thought was that he had some kind of hideous scab he was trying to cover up until I noticed the captive bead ring underneath it. The band-aid was being used as a “cover-up” of sorts, because apparently employees of the store are not allowed to wear body jewelry while working.I really felt bad for the guy – I’m sure he doesn’t need me to tell him that the band-aid looks just awful, but he does what he has to in order to keep both his piercing and his job. What I don’t understand is the thinking (or lack thereof) that went into creating this store policy in the first place. Do these employers really think that a big tacky brown bandage looks better than a piece of jewelry?

Body Mods In the Workplace
Erik Schlicksbier/Moment Open/Getty Images

Sexual Discrimination?

Not to mention the fact that this is sexual discrimination if I’ve ever seen it. If a woman came into employment of this store and had her ears pierced, would she be required to cover her earrings with band-aids? Of course not. In fact, there were several ladies in the same store working there with their jewelry in full view. Of course, it was standard post-and-back jewelry. What if one of these women was wearing captive bead rings? Why is it that a choice of jewelry turns a simple piercing into a violation of employment policy? Why is there a line of difference between “regular” jewelry and “body” jewelry – and when did body jewelry become evil?

Many employers will defend these ludicrous policies by stating that body jewelry and piercings detract from the professional appearance the company wants to portray. Dudes – it’s a supermarket. Or a fast food chain. These workers are not in a professional environment, nor are they paid enough to be professional. Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass if the girl that serves me a burger or bags my groceries has a third eye – as long as she’s clean, friendly, and does her job right.

Your Anti-Distraction is Distracting Me

But it’s not just fast food joints and grocery stores. A friend of mine, a Senior in high school, is pursuing a career in teaching elementary grade kids. Whenever she goes to her teacher’s assistant “job” (which is non-paying), she has to cover her nostril and eyebrow rings with band-aids, because supposedly the piercings can be distracting to the children. Some of the kids asked her one day why she had the band-aid, because they were concerned that she was hurt. So she peeled the bandage away to show them the piercing underneath, and the kids were perfectly happy to know she was fine and haven’t mentioned it again. So, which object was actually the source of distraction to the children? The stupid band-aid!

Waiter, There’s an Earring in My Soup

I talked with a few managers of some well-known chains to see if I could gain a little insight into corporate thinking. Jacki, who is a former manager of a McDonald’s and currently assisting the manager of an Arby’s in Pennsylvania, said that although she personally has nothing against body art or piercings, policy states that employees must remove their jewelry or wear a band-aid over their piercings. The reason? “That’s not company policy, that’s food safety policy. In Pennsylvania where I am from, the Health Department is also combined with the Department of Agriculture. .[The jewelry] would have to removed or secured with a band-aid … for “appearance” and food safety reasons. In theory the piercing (dealing here mostly with ears) could fall out into the food.” In theory? No kidding! Has anyone bothered to test that theory? Oddly enough, the back of stud-post jewelry can fall off a lot easier than the ball of a captive bead ring. To this day, I have yet to hear of someone losing their captive bead or the ring as a result of normal daily activities.

Does body art detract from the customer’s experience? McDonald’s thinks so. Jacki said that she would be reluctant to hire someone with heavy jewelry or tattoos simply out of fear of getting in trouble with the company. She mentioned one particular case when they “hired this awesome guy who happened to have a few small visible tattoos on his hand/ wrist area. Even though he was in the kitchen not in the direct sight of customers, we got in tons of trouble by our supervisors.” Yes, and I am sure this was “food safety” policy, too – I’d hate to see the guy’s tattoo fall off into someone’s salad.

Body Art Endangers a Good Customer Experience?

Adam is a manager of one of the Radio Shack electronic stores and he said that he will hire someone with body art, but it has to remain covered up when the employee is working. “It’s not that I mind it at all, but there are a lot of my customers who have somewhat biased opinions about people who have body art.” Again, it is the stereotype that body art somehow endangers a good customer experience – no matter how capable the person may be.

How do the pierced and tattooed find employment with this kind of prejudice running rampant among employers? It isn’t easy, and it has caused some to decide they have to sacrifice their love for body art just to be “accepted” in the Corporate World. On the message boards, Nzen writes, “I know I cannot risk getting facial piercings if I want to expand my job potential. Most offices are NOT going for non-religious nose piercings or eyebrow piercings. I’d love to get an Industrial in my right ear, but that’s risky in a lot of work places. Let’s face it, unless you’re gonna be a tattoo artist or a piercer or a computer whiz who can write their own ticket, you’re not gonna get very good jobs with a face full of metal and tats that show.” My question is why the hell not? Why should tattoos and piercings have any effect on determining if we are capable of handling a job? Why does a person wearing jewelry and art scare people? Simply put: Ignorance.

I don’t know if the day will ever come that the body art community will be embraced by the corporate world with open arms, but the good news is that some are starting to come around and see body art for what it really is. Some of them recognize the intelligence and the skills these people have and accept their appearance as something beautiful or at least acceptable. It might not be easy finding these employers, but they are out there. Check out the article, Body Art Friendly Companies and Employers to find some of them.

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