IMAG2364 Jason at Pine Street 11 Sept 2014It’s been all over the news that Starbucks is re-evaluating its dress code. This includes Starbucks taking another look at their policy that partners (Starbucks calls their employees ‘partners’) may not have visible tattoos. The current policy requires that tattoos must be covered.

First off, I don’t think this is a straight-forward or easy topic. Anyone who says “everyone should think this way or that way” is simply not able to see that we are not at a place of consensus in this country.

For some people, tattoos do have a negative associations, such a strong association with non-law-abiding behavior. I’m not saying that’s right, but to say that all negative associations with tattoos are gone is just silly.ย  (The tattoos that show up on ugly tattoos blogs don’t help this perception.)

Another common thing I see is that many partners assume that because nobody confronts them about their tattoos, there’s general acceptance. This too is silly. One cannot assume that silence means approval. In fact, we live in a society highly trained NOT to confront others. I don’t walk up to strangers and say, “wow that blouse is cut too low; or your jeans are too tight; or your blonde highlights look horrible…” We just don’t do this to each other. Likewise, nobody is going to walk up to a barista and say, “your arm looks really weird as a complete green and blue arm.”

We are not at some national place of consensus. I would have to guess that it some more conservative cities, a sleeve of tattoos is more frowned upon than in some more liberal regions of the country.

And above all, there’s the age-old debate, “who can possibly decide what’s offensive?” Probably there’s something to be said about where the tattoo appears. It’s likely that neck and face tattoos are less accepted (generally speaking) than arm tattoos.

I would also say that when Starbucks originally envisioned that tattoos policy, likely they assumed that partners would cover tattoos with clothing: this is the only professional means to do so. It’s true that a band-aid looks horrendous. If Starbucks wanted to revisit the tattoo policy, they could make it stricter: They could say clothing must be used to cover tattoos.

I think there’s still some question whether all the stores would necessarily have the same dress code. Perhaps an Evenings Starbucks should have a different policy than a regular Starbucks?

Having said all of the above, my own personal views on tattoos has really evolved and changed over time. I’ve met plenty of kind-hearted, generous, and wonderful partners who are heavily tattooed. I will be the first to say it: If you give me a choice between picking between (1) a kind, sincere, warm, friendly barista with tattoos or (2) an easily-angered, just-in-it-for-the-paycheck barista with NO tattoos, every single time, I’m going to want the kind and gentle person with tattoos.

It is, without a doubt, meeting the sweet partners with great hearts that has led me to believe that the tattoo policy should strongly be revisited. I’m not bold enough to even think that I know the right answer for a sixteen-billion dollar Fortune 500 company. This would be one of those situations where the more I know, the less I know. Speaking only for myself, I do strongly think there’s a lot of room to relax that tattoo policy and allow for visible arm tattoos – but again, figuring out how to do it is super tricky. I don’t have the answers!

Thank you partner Jason for volunteering your arm for this article!

It’s your turn to weigh in. Comments written to be nasty or attacking others will be deleted. It’s okay to have strong opinions, but always remember reasonable minds may differ. Please civil in the comments. I know this is a hot topic.

IMAG2363 Jason at Pine Street 11 Sept 2014