Can we make employee cover up her tattoos?

Q. One of our employees has tattoos on her upper arms. She usually wears long sleeves, but summer is coming. Can we require her to cover the tattoos? We don’t have any kind of a dress code, but would implement one if it meant she had to cover them. — A.L., Texas

A. You can adopt a dress code addressing tattoos, piercings and other personal appearance issues as long as your policies do not discriminate unlawfully or affect one protected group (race, sex, age, etc.) more than another.

To avoid gender discrimination claims, make sure that standards are applied equally to both sexes. And although much body art is simply for decoration, it can have religious implications, which would require you to accommodate them.

Assess what legitimate business interests are at stake and tailor the policy to fit your needs. For example, it may be appropriate to have a policy that imposes greater restrictions on employees who have direct contact with customers. Because state laws may impose additional restrictions, work with your legal counsel in weaving a dress code that covers all your needs.