Mar 29, 2012

Pro-Union Temporary Tattoos May Necessitate a Revision of Company Policies

Another organizing tool that unions are taking out of their toolbox to increase the number of dues-paying members is a temporary tattoo that includes pro-union slogans. These tattoos are applied similarly to the tattoos of unicorns and dinosaurs that small children might wear. However, the union’s message and impact with their temporary tattoos is very different.

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects concerted employee actions that are undertaken for the benefit of others and which relate to working conditions. Disciplining employees because their temporary tattoos laud the union’s ability to improve the terms and conditions of employment might result in an unfair labor practice charge for a company.

Most companies have policies regarding tattoos in the workplace because of the recent increase in tattoo popularity. Some companies require all tattoos to be covered up, while others permit the tattoos if they are not on the face or hands (there are exceptions for religious beliefs), and if they do not consist of images of violence or discriminatory or harassing images or statements. If your company does not have a tattoo policy, you might consider implementing and enforcing one consistently before a union starts organizing your workforce. As with language used in a social media policy, companies should not have a tattoo policy that prohibits anything that is “inappropriate.” The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly supported unfair labor practice charges involving such language because the language is so vague/overly broad that it places “a burden on employees’ exercise of Section 7 rights.”

If you have any questions about this topic, contact your labor and employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP with whom you usually work.

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