Employer May Require the Employee to Cover-up Tattoos

Year of publication

2020


Year of publication

395


Reference

Sub-district Court of Rotterdam, 18 September 2020, ECLI:NL:RBROT:2020:8133


Decision

Given the fact that the employee should reflect neutrality in his position, the employer is allowed to require the employee to cover up his tattoos.

An employee worked for a public transport company in the position of an inspector. The employee held the status of a special investigating officer. In 2018, the employer had communicated a policy requiring special investigating officers to cover up tattoos when they work uniformed. When they were in civilian clothing, the requirement did not apply. According to the employer, their policy, aimed at creating a sense of social security for travellers, was served by an image of authority and neutrality. That was the reason why employees who were also involved the investigation of criminal offences should cover up personal characteristics such as tattoos and other body decorations when working uniformed.
The employee disagreed with this policy and requested the Sub-district Court to rule that the employer's policy either exceeded the employer's authority to issue instructions, or that it was in breach with the principles of good employment practices or that it infringed the employee's fundamental rights and freedoms.
In its judgment, the Sub-district Court made short shrift of this claim.
According to the Sub-district Court, the employer has the right to determine how the employees shall present the company to the outside world, even if employees do not agree. True, there are limits to the employer’s authority, in the sense that he is not allowed to act in breach with good employment practices, reasonableness and fairness and the employee’s fundamental rights and freedoms. But the employer's policy did not go beyond these limits. The employer rightly invoked the importance of a neutral and professional image. With his tattoos, the employee wanted to show the person behind the employee, but that is exactly what the employer could prohibit. The policy also did not infringe the employee’s freedom to wear a tattoo that reflects his personal preferences, values or backgrounds either. In practice, covering up the tattoos simply meant wearing a long sleeve, fastening an extra button or sticking a plaster.


Comments

Under the employment contract, an employer has the authority to instruct the employee about the way in which the agreed work should be performed. This may include how the employee should dress during his work. In principle, an employee should accept it.
According to the Sub-district Court, this authority to instruct may include the instruction that tattoos have to be covered up. How far the employer's authority to give instructions stretches will always depend on the circumstances of each individual case.



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