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The Savvy Office Manager

Tattoo you? Not at Starbucks

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Cal Butera

by on
in The Savvy Office Manager

For most employers, a job candidate sporting a small visible tattoo would not be a deal-breaker.

After all, 36% of U.S. adults ages 18-25 have at least one tattoo, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The ink is a bit heavier on the U.S. population ages 26-40, where 40% have at least one tattoo.

Tattoos, visible or not, are trendy and aren’t raising the eyebrows the way they once did. Employees who wear them—proudly displayed or deep under clothing—are no less productive, engaged, reliable, friendly, honest or intelligent as those who don’t.

However, not all employers are fond of them.

Starbucks is among them.

The king of cappuccinos just recently gave one of its baristas an ultimatum: Within 30 days, remove your tattoo or resign.

The barista, who serves customers at a Starbucks shop in Troy, Michigan, said she used makeup to hide the tattoo—a heart the size of penny at the foot of her thumb—for the five years she worked there.

But apparently, management saw through the cover-up.

Starbucks is well within its right to adopt a policy addressing tattoos, piercings and other personal appearance issues as long as it doesn’t unlawfully discriminate against one protected group (age, race, religion, sex, etc.).

The company said its policy bars baristas from sporting visible tattoos, which means an employee could conceal the art with long sleeves, a Band-Aid, a scarf, or whatever. Starbucks doesn’t want its customers dealing with tattooed employees.

“This is part of our dress code policy and is discussed with our candidates during the interview process,” Starbucks said in a statement. In other words, Starbucks gives job candidates fair warning on its stance on appearance before offering them jobs.

So a potentially hard-working, dedicated employee with an armful of art may not even apply.

Two questions: Is a small tattoo worn by a male or female employee really chasing away today’s customers? Or is a no-tattoo policy chasing away what could be good employees?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan February 9, 2015 at 11:06 am

We have a business casual policy where I work. Everything neatly trimmed–hair, beards, fingernails, etc. Our policy states employees MAY be asked to cover their tatoos while on duty. No offensive tattos are permitted.
I have seen tatoos galore where I work. Up one arm across the neck and down the other arm.
And because they have tatoos in strategic places, they have to wear immodest clothing so everyone can see them. I find it very distracting–and I’m a woman. I can’t imagine how distracting it must be for the men.
I wish their managers had the guts to ask them to cover them up. There is so much fear of law suits now, that managers and supervisors don’t know what they can and cannot say or permit.
I’m just thankful piercings aren’t permitted. That’s what gets me in food handling jobs. If someone hands me an ice cream cone and his/her lips, chin, cheek, eyebrow is pierced–I lose my appetite. I ordered ice cream one time and the person waiting on me was so grossly pierced, I finally said, “You know what, I’m just not hungry anymore.” And I walked out and haven’t been back since.
I feel the same way about cashiers at the grocery store.
Sorry, I’m an empath. When I see piercings, I can feel them and I get turned off.
And I’m not saying these are bad people. I think they use poor judgment and should consider what job they might want in the future. They must be prepared to take the consequences.
I wish our company blankly stated no tatoos. I guess Starbucks didn’t want to grandfather anybody because then you’d have people pushing the envelope and testing the policy.
Just my two cents.


pam August 11, 2014 at 12:23 am

I’m human resources officer. When in Rome do as the Romans. A person with a tattoo or multiple tattoos, sagging pants, or even bright blue hair may be one of the most law-abiding, hardest working person on the planet; however, appearance matters, and can send unintended messages. Some people have made the bold move of self expression by having facial tattoos – think before you do it. Some acts can be self defeating. I wonder if Starbucks considered having a policy of not serving customers with tattoos.


Carla July 30, 2014 at 10:03 pm

I agree with Starbucks policy. They are doing their best to maintain a professional and clean environment. It would be difficult to manage employees with selective “It’s okay” for one tattoo, but not okay for another to be exposed. It is more fair to all to avoid visible tattoos all together.


Vincent Metal July 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I’m not really certain that having a blanket No Tattoo policy does much to help most companies. Maybe Starbucks attracts a different customer base than most coffee shops I’ve been in, I’ll give it that. But largely, when I go into a coffee shop to get my morning fix, I pretty much expect there to be at least one person behind the counter covered in tattoos. They’re almost more likely to be awesome and polite than the employees without them.


Marcia July 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I also love Starbuck’s approach. Unfortunately for employees & employers alike, if you allow one employee to have one innocuous tattoo, uncovered, you must allow ALL employees the same right. Not all tattoos are “sweet little penny-sized hearts” and if we allow an employee with one, we might have to allow the employee with sleeves of tattoos. And if we let you know our tattoo/dress policy during the interview, we prefer not to be put in the position later that we need to ask an employee to cover up tattoos/cleavage/etc.


Katie July 28, 2014 at 11:15 am

I’m with Eliza on this one. I’d much rather see a tattoo than a Band-Aid on the hand of someone in food service. Also, why was the make-up cover up acceptable for 5 years but now it isn’t?


Eliza July 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

Uh…not a Band-Aid, please. I’d much rather see a tattoo than a Band-Aid on the hand of someone’s who’s handling my cup of coffee.


Eliza July 28, 2014 at 11:08 am



Marla July 28, 2014 at 9:36 am

I think each company has the right to dictate a specific dress/appearance policy. Employees are made aware of them, so should have no position to complain if they don’t adhere to it and thus get disciplined or terminated as a result of not following the policy. The barista could easily put a bandaid over it every day if she really wants to keep the job. No one is forcing her to work there.


LP July 24, 2014 at 12:14 pm

I love the no-tattoo policy. Starbucks is pretty smart doing this.


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