Thursday, August 14, 2008
Welcome To Soviet America: Bountiful, Utah Bans Tattoos For New City Employees And Earrings For All Male Employees
On August 14th, 2008, KSL Channel 5 reports that the city of Bountiful, Utah has instituted an outright ban on tattoos for new city employees. The ban appears to apply to visible tattoos, which means a non-uniformed employee could wear sufficient clothing to cover it up. A uniformed employee's tattoo would have to be covered up when wearing a prescribed uniform combination. Current city employees are grandfathered. In addition, male employees will no longer be allowed to wear earrings on the job. Also reported by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Ogden Standard-Examiner.
The new policy was approved by the Bountiful City Council on Tuesday August 12th by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Fred Moss voting against the measure after failing to soften the wording on the tattoo ban from shall not be hired to may not be hired.
However, one Bountiful resident and Salt Lake City tattoo artist says Bountiful's new ban on visible tattoos for city workers will never stand up in court. Kelly Miller stated, "I'm not an attorney, but I doubt it. I've been around tattooing for about 30 years, and I've seen New York finally have to relax its regulations, Oklahoma, many of the states where for a long time it was illegal." Under the new rule, people like Miller wouldn't be allowed to work for the City of Bountiful.
Miller, who works at Susie M's tattoo parlor, says he considers tattoos protected speech under the Bill of Rights. But he qualifies his opinion by saying, "If the tattoo is pornography, or if they can show that it's a hate-crime type of tattoo, maybe they might have something to stand on there. But otherwise, they don't have much to stand on, I don't think." He estimates that 30 percent of those applying for a job with the city will not be eligible under the new rule. [Ed. Note: Pornography may be simple to screen out, but "hate"? Would a swastika, life rune, la raza, or black power fist tattoo be ruled out as a "hate" tattoo? What about a Confederate battle flag or noose tattoo? This would open up a whole bucket of worms.]
Bountiful's new policy is similar to that used by the U.S. Air Force and the Los Angeles Police Department, which specifically bar tattoos on the head, neck, face, or hands. But in this case, the Bountiful rule applies to all city workers, not just those in uniform.
The U.S. Supreme Court first recognized symbolic speech (non-verbal) as protected was Stromberg v. California in 1931. In 1969, in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, Justice Fortas said, "In the absence of a specific showing of constitutional valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views." The case involved students who wore peace signs. The court has not addressed tattoos specifically.
However, tattoo bans in other areas are being challenged. The union representing police officers in Des Moines, IA has filed a grievance after the city instituted a similar ban there in July of this year.
On June 19th, 2008, CNN reported an interesting story about tattoos and work environments. Many employers have restrictions on tattoos.
Opinion: One commenter who defends the new procedure states that many people don't trust those who wear tattoos. Really? I suppose they don't trust the thousands of U.S. Navy sailors who wear tattoos and who sail into harm's way on a regular basis. This change is catering to petty bias. But at least they restrict all visible tattoos and don't try to play God to determine what constitutes "pornographic" or "hate". I personally don't have any tattoos, and I refuse to date women with tattoos, because I personally consider them unfeminine, but I would not impose my personal preference upon others in a work environment.
But there's a lesson to be learned from this. If you're going to get a tattoo, limit it to an area of your body which can be covered up on a normal basis in order to stay employable. If you look like Curtis Allgier (pictured at top), no one will hire you.