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Grooming Standards, Social Media, and Company Polices

I recently read two discussions about company policies on employees’ grooming standards and social media. I believe they both deserve our attention, especially if we are working in the service sector.

The first one is about a company’s guidelines on employee dress codes and grooming standards. Today, there are more people wearing tattoos and piercings than before. It is found that 32% of those between 25 and 29 wear at least one tattoo. Does this mean more companies will allow employees to uncover their tattoos and piercings at work?

I doubt it. Based on my own research on hospitality recruiters’ expectations of job candidates and my work experience in the industry, I believe the service industry is still very conservative in dress codes and very strict on employees’ grooming standards. The question is: What policy is deemed appropriate in the work place?

According to a recent report in the HR Magazine, strict work place dress codes may raise legal issues, especially when a tattoo or piercing “reflects a genuine religious belief.” In that case, “the employer must accommodate that belief unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business.”

The second discussion is a case about Facebook and legal issues. According to the Ogletree Deakins News, a salesman got fired by a car dealership because (a) he posted comments criticizing the way that the dealership had handled a marketing event with photos on Facebook and (b) he made critical comments about an accident that occurred during the marketing event by another dealership, which is run by the same company of his and located right next door. He then filed unfair labor practice charge against the dealership, “alleging both that he had been discharged because he engaged in protected concerted activities in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act and that the company maintained several unlawful rules in its employee handbook.” So, what are the results?

The administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that the salesman was discharged because of what he posted about the accident caused by the dealership next door, “and because that posting was not protected activity, the termination was not unlawful.” The ALJ, however, “considered the allegations that the employee handbook contained several policies that violated the ACT.” Three out of the four challenged “courtesy” policies on the dealership’s employee handbook are found unlawful and need modifications. One example of the unlawful policy reads:

Courtesy: Courtesy is the responsibility of every employee. Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as well as to their fellow employees. No one should be disrespectful or use profanity or any other languages which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership.

On review, the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) agreed that the “courtesy rule” violated Section 8(a)(1) Act because “employees would reasonably construe its broad prohibition against ‘disrespectful’ conduct and ‘language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership’ as encompassing Section 7 activity, such as employees’ protected statement.” NLRB further explained that an employee’s “polite expression of disagreement could be deemed ‘disrespectful’ to the company’s reputation” under the courtesy policy. In the end, the company was ordered to “rescind the three rules and furnish all employees with the language of lawful rules or a revised employee handbook containing the new rules.”

I do not have any JD education, but it seems to me that many companies striving to provide professional and exceptional customer service (in a more “conservative” way at least) would set strict guidelines on employees’ grooming standards, their usage of social networking sites, as well as courtesy. It becomes obvious that we need to be very careful in writing an employee handbook. It is probably a very good idea to seek legal advice regarding the appropriate content and languages used in the handbook. HR professionals must be fair to everyone and apply the same policy to every employee.  

What practical implications do you see from these two cases? Are they worthy of our attention?

Relevant discussions:

Deschenaux, Joanne. (2012, November). Workplace Dress, Grooming Codes May Raised Legal Issues. HR Magazine, p. 18.
Ogletree Deakins News – The Employment Law Authority. (2012, September/October). NLRB upholds Dismissal in Facebook Case, but Finds Employer’s Policy Violated Federal Labor Law. p. 1 and p. 6 (in a newsletter). 


  1. In agreement with the above posting, I believe the service sector will remain conservative in it's standards for appropriate dress in the workplace. Even with the growing percentage of physical body "expressions" on employees, I stand strong in my belief that the standards of front line employees appearance will need to remain one of a proper, clean look; which will mean covering up any tattoos and extra piercings. From my own personal experiences at places I have worked, tattoos are acceptable as long as they can we covered up while at work. Additionally, any offensive or inappropriate markings will especially need extra coverage and those candidates may be require extra consideration.

    In regards to the social media (facebook) incidents published above, employees and employers need to proceed with the same caution when posting, etc. The social media we use as a tool today can serve as a double edged sword if not used cautiously and graciously.

    As tradition has called, today should remain close it it; keeping personal things personal and away from work.

    Haleigh Schoeneck

  2. In response to the post above, I believe that there is a very strict dress code in the work place, and that it depends on what kind of company you are working for. People that are working for a start up company that may have an HR department may not care about a dress code and if someone has tattoos and piercing. If you are working for a hotel as a receptionist and you are in contact with people the dress code may be very strict for someone’s visual appearance. From my own personal experience I worked somewhere where people had very edgy looks, different hair colors, Mohawks, arm sleeve with tattoos. I do believe that people should be dressed appropriate for work even though they may have a “different look”.

    In response to the Facebook post, employees need to be very careful what is being posted on Facebook, and what they say, social media today can get people into a lot of trouble.


  3. Although we all agree that the covering of tattoos and piercings is well needed in a professional customer service workplace, there are things we need to keep in mind when it comes to dress codes in other aspects of our industry’s dress code. Professionalism to many of us is a clean cut, ironed suit and the covering of tattoos and piercings but when we look at some retail companies it seems like the strict dress code changes. Majority of recruiters look for professionalism as a first impression but when think of some retail companies, there is a sense of leniency and a search of distinct personality. Retail is part of the hospitality industry and I believe that depending on the work environment and culture of the company, the dress code and grooming policy is deemed to change in the level of appropriateness throughout the industry.

    In reference to the Facebook incident, it is practical for all employers and employees to overlook the social media policies together during orientation. In this day in age, almost everyone has access to social media therefore all updated or modified rules and regulations should be enforced. Enforcing these rules and regulations can prevent incidents such as this. This particular incident is worthy of our attention because people misuse social media as a therapeutic or venting tool and forget that things that circulate the media will get into the hands of the wrong person. This is an extreme case but there are similar cases that are less extreme and lead to termination, as a college student and soon to be graduate I will not want to get caught up on something like this and I wouldn't want anyone I know to go through this either.

    -Christine Delgado

  4. In the case of the Facebook situation, employees should know to be careful of what they are expressing onto the internet. Many people should know better by now, since it is proven that employers are using social media as a tool to “screen” their employees before hiring. Just because you are hired does not mean that they will no longer check your social media sites. Everyone knows by now that nothing posted on the internet is safe. Even if the company didn’t directly see negative comments on the employee’s profile, I’m sure that simply researching the company on a search engine would bring up the results.

    Tattoos are always a controversial element when it comes to professionalism. Because some people choose to have their ink visible (after all the money put into it, why not?) it raises the concern of discrimination because of the relation of tattoos to crimes. Many feel that tattoos are a form of expression or a way of tribute to a loved one, but in the professional industry, they are frown upon. In a way, I feel that it is a bit unfair and a little discriminatory because people assume tattoos are bad news. However, I agree that tattoos should be covered up when you are working because when you are employed; you are not only representing yourself, but also your employer. It’s simple professionalism.

    -Cindy L.

    1. Very good points. I especially like your comment of "after all the money put into it, why not?"

  5. I feel that the “tattoo problem” is just a problem because of the connotation that was given it from a long time ago. People are still conservative and they still believe in proper grooming and look. In hotels and other professional settings people still want to keep the fa├žade of them doing something important (they probably are). I’m not saying that tattoos are jokes or would make someone unprofessional, but I think that people are still caught up in that “professional look” and tattoos are definitely in the do not do section of that. I feel like if people start to show their tattoos in professional settings it loses the environment companies worked so hard to build. They had a certain look that corresponds to a certain environment that adding tattoos now to the work place is a step back for companies and the look of professionalism.
    About the Facebook problem I think that regardless whether the company has a bad/good employee handbook the employee should’ve had enough common sense to realize that he as an individual who still represents that company. Him bad mouthing his company makes him look bad because what type of person associates himself with a company that they disagree with? The person did not change anything by bad mouthing and criticizing his management and how they dealt with the problem. Instead of posting to Facebook; he should have met with his superior and gave them ideas to better their PR or a way to fix the solution. Talking about something you disagree with behind the companies back or in social media does not make the company better, it just makes the company more susceptible to mistakes.

    - Clea Nievera

  6. Regarding tattoos; is it really fair to let one person get away with what they say is a religious tattoo or piercing, and not others. Many tattoos have an important meaning to the person, and that would be making an exception. You have said before that it is important to treat all employees equally. I think that if one should be covered, they should all be covered.
    Regarding facebook; the employee was blatantly being insubordinate and bad mouthing the company, this would be considered a reason for termination. Facebook is social media, it is a way that many companies use to promote their businesses. If one of their OWN employees is complaining and bad mouthing their events this does not look good. Word spreads very quickly on Facebook, so it is important that employees are careful what they say about their employers and their company.

    -Tara Wyant

    1. Very good point. It seems to me that it becomes very difficult these days to balance the act of applying the same standards to everyone (being fair) and making accommodations of individual's special needs. There are also many lawsuits in the work place. Employers need to be very careful now.

  7. I agree with everything in the above post. I believe that it is important for the hospitality industry to stay conservative in dress codes and grooming standards. I do however believe that grooming standards should be different depending on whether you are working for a restaurant, hotel or a start up business. Although more people are wearing tattoos, they can still cover them just as easily as people have in the past.

    Concerning the facebook incident, I believe that employers must take the same precautions that they have during previous times. Employers should plan to cover all social media policies during orientation. More and more people are using social media, so companies should take a look at their policies after each year. Companies should use social media only to benefit their company. As a college student graduating after one more semester I will be sure to keep my personal life separate from work and would advise others to do the same!

    Josh Biegel

  8. Dr. Kwok,

    I feel that employers today are becoming less lenient towards employees with things like tattoos and piercings. We live in a society where meeting our demands comes before anything or anyone else. And though employees often times find it difficult to abide by the rules, they are still the ones who signed the contract. I believe that each individual may request for a contract specifically tailored for them, but an employer may otherwise set precautions for them as well. For example, executive rules will remain executive rules. It is a company’s policy and cannot be changed.

    Therefore, I agree with you that employers will continue to keep their standards and enforce the rules according to the employee handbook. Only so much can be done to accommodate one person’s needs. In this industry, professionalism still should come first.

    -Helen Peng

  9. I believe that in our society today the employers need to becareful of whom they are hiring. If an employee has tattoos I believe that the employer must take that into consideration and if the employer thinks showing tattoos is unprofessional than the employee must cover it up or shouldn't work there at all. However, I also think that in our society today there is sometimes an over lapse between personal life and work life. Inside a contract there must be a boundary between how employees may act inside the workplace and how employees may act outside of the workplace. Although commenting on a facebook link is freedom of speech and is someones opinion it also puts the workplace at risk.

  10. For the first issue, there is a trend that people are more and more open minded about dressing code. Piercing and tattoo are often seen especially among younger generation. People have different levels of acceptance about these trends. However, I do consider it is important for HR managers to discuss rules about dressing code when they hiring employees based on the nature of their position. Personally, I would have no problem served by a waiter at a bar or a girl at a shopping mall with a big tattoo on their hands. However, I would feel uncomfortable getting my pulse taken by a nurse with lot of piercings on her ears or face, because this appearance does not help her fit into the work and makes her looked unprofessional. In conclusion, it is the employees’ freedom to dress themselves if it does not prevent them from being professional based on the nature and requirements of their works.

    Jie Ren NSD314

  11. On the issue of tattoos, I personally feel that dress code in the workplace will not change. No matter how leanient the workplace may become, tattoos are associated, on the most part with immaturity and a particular type of attitude that says "I don't care, I do what I want". Tattoos and facial piercings signal an unconcious perception to the customer about the values of the company are less professional than they would want to come across. Because piercings and tattoos are associated with younger generations, the company can be viewed more unprofessional than some of the competition. It is important that managers make the dress code clear to employees so that there is no question as to what is acceptable.
    As for social media, the same rule stays the same. Managers must train employees to know what is acceptable inside and outside of the workplace. What they do outside of their job still reflects the company.

  12. I find that the area of dress code and tattoos/piercings is a very touchy subject. Most people that do in fact have tattoos or piercings see them as a personal and individual expression, and most are not willing to cover them up for a job. However, I do see revealing tattoos and piercings as a sign of immaturity. I myself have a strong interest in both, however I know that having them in a place where they are visible is extremely unprofessional. Especially when you are in a field such as hospitality or human resources, you are constantly dealing with people and it is critical that you are always acting in a professional manner. I think that companies have the right to ask an employee to cover up a tattoo or remove a piercing because it is a large dress code issue. This however can vary with the type of job you are working. It would be inappropriate for a waiter or waitress in a fancy country club restaurant to have exposed facial piercings or tattoos, however a waiter or waitress at a sports bar is more likely. It is unfortunate that piercings and tattoos can only be limited to a certain type of job, however when people apply for a professional job they must realize sacrifices that need to be made. Dress code is also crucial because as a consumer, i am constantly aware of employees at nice restaurants who are not dressed to par and do not match other employees. Having a consistent and strict dress code allows a restaurant or company to look more uniform and organized. If the company does not have to do with food management, then there should still be a dress code in place because employees need to be aware of what is considered appropriate and what is not appropriate. There is often a fine line, and people constantly cross that line since it sometimes is difficult to tell what can be deemed appropriate in certain situations.
    - Kayla Cord, NSD 314, Spring 2013

  13. Although tattoos and piercings are swiftly rising in popularity among younger adults, the acceptance of them is moving at a much slower pace. As previously mentioned in several of the previous blog comments, many tattoos have a special meaning to their owner- perhaps even religious significance- but have yet to be socially accepted in most workplaces. In fields such as the service industry and other professional businesses, I feel that it is acceptable for an employer to ask its employees to cover up their tattoos/piercings while they are at work as long as it applies to all employees from day one. I believe that employees should be told the moment that they are hired that tattoos and piercings must be covered and if that rule is broken, like any other, the employee will be reprimanded.
    Along with tattoos and piercings, an employee's general appearance is also an important aspect of their professionalism. Whether it's an untucked shirt or messy hair, a customer will notice and, although we are taught not to, judge the person based on their appearance. This particular employee may have outstanding professionalism and do above and beyond what their job description states, but the customer would be much happier with a put-together server, cashier, banker, etc.
    With respect to the social media concerns, I think that if an employee is putting a bad mark on the company that they work for, an employer has every right to terminate them. If your boss overheard you bad-mouthing the company to anyone, they would have grounds for termination, and by doing so on the internet, it is there for anyone to see.
    Professionalism isn't just how you act on the job, it's how you appear and carry yourself whenever your job is concerned.

    -Shelagh Ramsden
    NSD 314, 2013

  14. Tattoos and piercings are a constant topic of conversation regarding employment. I think there is a time and place to expose your tattoos or to wear your favorite nose hoop ring but at your job may not be the best place. These two issues can be acceptable depending on the type of job a person has, for example my brother used to work at Hot Topic with his 10 tattoos and they did not need to be covered since it enhanced the beliefs of the store. But for any person in a more professional setting, like Human Resource Management, covering up tattoos would be the proper thing to do. I don’t think it is right that a person you do business with should have to know your religious beliefs or musical interests by looking at your arms filled with tattoos. They can be distracting and just not appealing to some people. As for ear piercings and other piercings, if they are such a distraction they could easily be taken out during work. In regards to social media websites, I think that the employee was in the wrong to speak negatively about his company on Facebook. Instead of writing his emotions online, he should have gone to someone in the company or HR department to share how he felt and why he felt that way. In the future, employers should definitely incorporate rules and regulations about tattoos, piercings and social media websites in order to avoid problems. Since the younger generations are constantly getting new tattoos and piercing, and involving themselves on social media websites, these rules will come in handy when faced with situations in the future.

    -Joanna Weinberg
    NSD314--Spring 2013

  15. Personally I think tattoos and piercings are distracting in professional environments. If a company has standards on these expressions they should stick to them and the applicant should be able to respect that. Every employee is a reflection of the company and they can decide who and how they want to be represented. It reflects poorly if the company starts to make exceptions; it only causes more problems for them. As newer generations have increasing interest with tattoos and social media they need to be careful. Not everything can be known about an applicant in an interview. To cover their bases they check personal sites where there could be information they would not voluntarily present to the employer but could cause problems in the future. I would not want an employee who bad talks my company even if they perform well at the workplace.
    -Erin Castle NSD 314

  16. I do believe that companies could consider an absence of piercings and tattoos a business necessity, especially in the hospitality industry where employees interact with customers more than say someone in an office who might not leave their cubicle.

    As far as social media is concerned I understand that a company would want to protect their image. I myself have had a job that prohibited its employees from posting bad things about their employer on social media. While this may not be legal to prohibit employees to post on facebook about the company because it has not been protected under any act, do you really want to? Don't we spend enough time at work? Do we really want to include work our socialmedia life as well? I say if you need to vent about your company do it off line and away from the office.
    Ali Pregent

  17. I feel that the service industry should continue to be strict about dress code policies concerning tattoos and piercings. I remember when I went for my tattoo, I originally was going to get it on my wrist, but after thinking about it carefully, I decided to get it in a spot that I could easily cover up to avoid future conflicts with jobs. I knew I was going to be a dietitian and working with many people through out my life, so getting a visible tattoo wouldn't have been the greatest decision. I think that employees with professional jobs that deal with interacting with many different people and customers should not have visible tattoos, or at least be willing to cover them up to avoid the controversies behind it.

    I also believe that people shouldn't post negative opinions about the business they work for through Facebook or any other forms of social media. When one uses Facebook, they have to be aware that it is a public activity and what they post can be subjected to whoever is on the internet. With that being said, I feel that employees should watch what they are saying about the companies they work for. I don't blame these businesses for wanting to fire workers who are potentially giving them a bad reputation.

    Danielle Marino
    NSD 314

  18. I agree with what everyone has said regarding tattoos in the workplace. I think that it is acceptable to ask employees to cover up tattoos or certain piercings while at work. I have a few tattoos myself, and when I got them I knew that I would have to cover them up for every professional moment in my life. Covering up a tattoo for work is widely accepted and understood, so I think that asking an employee to make sure it is covered is fair and reasonable. I think that it also adds to the professionalism of the institution. As far as social media goes, I think that you should not post anything that you wouldn't want your grandparents or future employers to see. If it is online, it is fair game for anyone to see. I think that firing employees due to bashing on facebook is fair because if they said it to their faces, the employers would feel the same way. Kayleigh Newell NSD 314

  19. In the first case I do not feel that tattoos are appropriate in the work place even if it reflects a religious belief. Many people can reflect their religious beliefs in other ways and it does not mean it has to be tattooed on your body or that it makes it all right to show the tattoo in the work place. If a company has a handbook stating that all employees must conform to the same set of standards then every employee should be held to that. This also goes for the second case of social media in the workplace. I know of some employees that make their employees sign a contract that eliminates the worries of people posting negative things about their job on the Internet. It can and will hurt the company and if the employee happens to make negative comments or post pictures that can be viewed wrong, then they can choose to suspend or fire that person based on the contract they signed. Work and private lives are two areas that can be very difficult to keep separate but can very much harm you if you don’t keep them separate.

    Bailey Sweeting

  20. In my point, wearing tattoos at work should be continue constricted. Companies should ask their employees to cover the tattoos, especially in hospitality fields, since employees here have more opportunities to interact with customers and should maintain professional looks. I was trying to get a tattoo on my wrist, but after asking my parents and some of my friends I decided not to get one. As I want to be a RD in the future, having a visible tattoo would make me look unprofessional and would bring me troubles, like religion conflicts during work, since I will have a lot of interacts with patients or clients.
    For the social media issue, I think you should not post things in public if you dont want your employer to see or just dont post at all. I understand that some people would say I have those rights to state my own opinion about the company, but on the other side, what will the company think if any of its employees say bad things about it? So, I think post privately or just dont post negative opinions about your company on social networks is the best choice!

    NSD 314--Di Yang

  21. Since I am very conservative person, I don’t like tattoo, but I am fine with people around me have tattoos. But for those who are in work especially have the need to serve the customers directly, I think cover the tattoo is the most basic rule should be established in the companies. This is just respectful to the customers since I believe the servers would not leave a nice first impression to the customers if their tattoos are visible. Usually people would have misunderstanding with those of people who have tattoos on their bodies, because in our education system, only bad guys would have tattoos on them but never of those nice people( I know this is not true but for people like us who don’t have tattoos on just can’t control ourselves from thinking that way).Even most people that have tattoos on are very friendly and kind-hearted, the customers would only have time to differentiate the people from their appearance.

    Zishen He, HPM 314


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