I have had a nose ring since before I was hired. Can my employer make up a new, more strict dress code, and make me remove my nose ring?

I have had a nose ring since I was 18 years old. I wear a small, metal stud in
it. I have worked for the same institution since I graduated from college. No
one at this institution has ever requested that I remove my nose ring. When I
was hired into my current position years ago, my supervisor did not request that
I remove or cover it up. Every year, my supervisor’s supervisor revamps the
dress code to be more restrictive. This year’s version mentions piercings, and
says the only acceptable ones are to be worn in the ear lobes. No one has come
to me individually yet and asked me to remove my nose ring. If they do, what
should I do? I feel like I shouldn’t have to remove it, considering I was hired
with it and this new dress code is sort of too little, too late.

Asked on April 2, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

As general matter, a business may put in place dress and appearance codes at any time and typically the law does not protect body art. That is unless such a policy violates the terms of a union agreement/employment contract or if it results in some form of legally actionable discrimination (i.e. is based on based on race, gender, age, disability and religion, etc.). Accordingly, if for example, your nose ring has religous significance, then your employer cannot bar it (however merely calling something "religious" does not automatically give it protection; you would have to give proof that it is required by your faith). Bottom line, as an "at will" worker you'll have to remove your nose ring or risk termination.


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