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Piercings and tattoos: can you set limits as an employer?

Over the years, we look less and less up at tattoos and piercings in the workplace. But despite this growing acceptance, some employers remain reluctant. As an employer, can you ask to cover tattoos and take off piercings during working hours? Or does that clash with your employees' freedom of expression?

8 May 2024

Disclaimer. The English translations provided herein are generated by artificial intelligence from Dutch and French content. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, we cannot guarantee that the translations will be error-free. The translated content is for readability purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. For accurate information, employers and HR professionals are advised to consult the original versions in Dutch or French, or to consult your Securex Legal Advisor.

Tattoos and piercings: what rules can you impose?

As an employer, you cannot generally prohibit your employees from getting a tattoo or piercing. Such a ban would be a restriction of your employee's fundamental rights and freedoms.

Though there are situations where you can prohibit its visible display or wearing. However, you can do so only if that measure is objectively and reasonably justified. After all, as an employer, based on case law, you are allowed to impose certain requirements on employees who are in contact with customers. Thus, your company's image may be a valid reason not to allow the wearing of visible tattoos or piercings during work. For example, employees in a commercial role may be expected to hide their tattoos when interacting with customers.

Our tip

Do you want to establish a policy around tattoos, piercings or even hairstyles? Then make sure your employees are aware of it by including it in your employment regulations. You can use our model clause for this. If you prefer a clause made to measure, ask your Securex Legal Advisor for advice at myHR@securex.be.

Priority to safety and hygiene

Safety and health can also be objective criteria for banning piercings and tattoos. Consider the food sector, where wearing jewellery is usually banned. On the one hand, there is a biological risk of dirt accumulating on jewellery and getting into food. On the other hand, there is the physical risk that piercings can cause infections, which in turn can lead to contamination of food.

For example, the Federal Agency for Food Safety (FAVV/AFSCA) has prepared a ‘Guide for self-checking in general food retail’. It states as a guideline for workers handling unpackaged food:

Staff must not wear jewellery (no watches, no visible chains, no bracelets, no earrings, no visible piercings, no rings (smooth wedding rings are tolerated). Wearing jewellery is only allowed if the operator can demonstrate through its risk analysis that there is no risk of contamination.

In terms of safety, we think of working with machinery, for example in the metal sector. In some cases, there is a danger of a piercing or other piece of jewellery getting caught in a machine.

Are you a customer of the external prevention service of Securex? If so, for more info on risk analyses, it is best to contact health-safety@securex.be.

Candidate employees with tattoos and piercings?

According to the anti-discrimination law, you may not discriminate on the basis of physical features such as scars, a birthmark, … Tattoos, piercings and hairstyles do not fall under the concept of “physical features” and thus are not protected grounds.

But you must be aware that as an employer, you must not discriminate against employees with tattoos and piercings.

But as an employer, you must use criteria that are legal when selecting candidates. This means that you should only consider criteria that are relevant to the nature and performance conditions of the job.

What does Securex do for you?

Do you still have a question after reading this article? Then contact your Securex Legal Advisor for more info at myHR@securex.be.

Would you like to know more about anti-discrimination legislation and the many changes to it in recent years? Then surf to ourthemed articles on anti-discrimination legislation.


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