Man with mohawk style haircut and alternative fashion outfitYou can learn a lot about what’s really happening in the minds of HR professionals by tooling around many of the LinkedIn forums and Quora questions. In fact, let me stop my writing right now to remind you that if you are selling to Human Resources or Recruiting or actively developing a product for such, you would do well to see what the pros are really wondering about rather than wandering around starry eyed murmuring about how the “job search is broken” rant.

With that said, back to my main point. I recently came across a discussion around freaky hairstyles, visible tattoos, facial piercings and other odd appearances… and their affects on hiring and those in charge of it. People are super interested in this topic and for good reason.

Fact: According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study titled Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, 38 percent of millennials (ages 18-29) have at least one tattoo.

Why it matters: We’ve written here before about the generational gap, how to manage millennials and finally, the surge of millennials currently in, and entering, the workforce. So it behooves hiring professionals to (still) have the discussion about what is acceptable “body art” in the coming years. As a reminder, not only are the younger (more tattooed) generation entering the workforce, they are also entering the ranks of active consumers.

Fact: Some companies are already embracing body art and piercings in their employee ranks. But it’s still sort of dependent on location.

Why it matters:  IKEA, Forever 21, Google, Hard Rock Café, and Best Buy are among those who are fine with piercings and strange haircuts. On the other hand, many of these companies have region specific locations, which essentially means it’s up to the hiring manager. Many hiring managers in the LinkedIn forum about this very topic stated they would hesitate about putting a heavily tattooed or pierced person in a customer facing position. A few stated specifically that professional careers (lawyer, doctor) would be even less likely to accept a person with a less than normal appearance.

Fact: Tattoos and Piercings have no affect on productivity or work ethic. Okay, I don’t actually have a study to back this up, but unless someone wants to leave one in the comments, I’m not seeing any study to prove it.

Why it matters: Because unless you have a darn good reason for prohibiting tattoos and piercings, you can get in legal trouble.

Employers are free to set their own workplace appearance standards. But where businesses stumble is by either not having a policy in place that clearly sets out expectations, or by having personal appearance policies that are poorly drafted or inconsistently applied.

Lifestyle choices, per se, aren’t subject to Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. But lifestyle discrimination can nonetheless run afoul of the law. Dress codes, for example, can violate Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination based on national origin. And appearance policies that are applied differently to men than they are to women can trigger sex-discrimination claims.

Fact: 36 percent of organizations surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management had a policy for body piercing; and only 22 percent had policies for body art. Compare that to 97 percent of organizations that maintained policies on clothing and 70 percent on footwear.

Why it matters: While there are a lots of opinions on the subject, very few HR pros have really spelled out what that means for the organization. And as global hiring increases (through video and audio screening off-site) and remote or contingent work becoming more prevalent, both corporate and third party recruiting agencies need to have an idea of what (if any) policy exists regarding tattoos, piercings and interesting hairstyles.

What do you think? Should HR pros and recruiters have explicitly stated policies about appearance? Should candidates cover up or make their appearance more ‘corporate’? Does body art (including hair flair, for lack of a better term) have any affect on allowing someone (or the coworkers they interact with on a daily basis) to do his or her job? Hit us up in the comments. As a tattooed woman who is considering a pink streak, inquiring minds want to know!

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