Then the district manager over the Caribou Coffee shop in Cornelius where she works requested that Miller, 22, remove it.
The request was no surprise. Miller was used to covering up the Taurus tattoo on her upper back and the star on her ankle.
As multiple tattoos and piercings become more common, many employers are reconsidering their dress codes, say human resource professionals.
It’s especially relevant during the summer job season when teens and college kids are more likely to be working, they say.
“I think companies are finding it’s very difficult to find a young person who doesn’t have (body art or jewelry),” said Phyllis Hartman, a principal with PGHR Consulting, a human resources consulting firm in Pittsburgh.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology last year, 36 percent of people ages 18 to 29 are tattooed.
Patterson Pope, a Charlotte-based company that sells and installs mobile shelving to places such as law firms and doctor’s offices, instituted a tattoo and piercing policy about a month ago.
Employees who work outside the office must now cover tattoos and remove facial piercings.
“Six months ago it occurred to me that we’ve got a growing problem here and we need to address that,” said Bruce Lawrence, the company’s operations manager. Applicants “had more tattoos on them in 2007 then 2005.”
PetSmart updated its employee appearance standards nationally after a customer survey last year, said Mooresville store manager Bill Holden. Under the more restrictive policy, tattoos must now be covered and piercings are limited to one per ear, he said.
Caribou Coffee allows two piercings per ear, but prohibits facial jewelry and visible tattoos. Miller, a college student from Charlotte, keeps the tattoos on her back and ankle covered by her clothes when on duty.
She took the so-called industrial ear piercing out, but kept a smaller earring in one of the holes.
“They don’t care if you have them,” she said, “as long as you can take them out on the job.”
While employers may be more willing these days to hire someone with lip jewelry, that doesn’t mean they want patrons to notice.
“The customer doesn’t reasonably expect to see someone with a nose ring,” said Kenny Colbert, president of The Employers Association in Charlotte.
Policies can vary within a company depending on the type of business and how visible the employee is to customers, said Gloria Davis, an HR professional for Citistreet, a part of Citigroup that provides human resources administration to other companies.
An employee who works third shift in a factory may not need to cover the tattoo on the forearm, she said. A teenager working in a store that caters to other teens might be allowed to display a cheek pierce, she said.
At Thomas Street Tavern in Plaza-Midwood, about one-third of the staff have tattoos and one has an above-the-lip diamond stud, said bartender Katie Cannon.
“The people that live in the neighborhood have tattoos and facial piercings, and we are a neighborhood bar,” said Cannon, 37, who has lilies tattooed on her neck and around her upper arm.
The YMCA of Greater Charlotte hires 900 summer employees, most of them young people, and expects them to keep tattoos covered. Eyebrow and nose pierces must be filled with clear spacers, which keep pierced holes open without eye-catching metal jewelry.
The YMCA has these recommended restrictions because a “lot of our camp counselors are considered role models for the kids,” said Maggie Grafton, the group’s senior vice president of human resources.
“(But) if somebody’s got a really small heart tattoo on their ankle, is somebody following up on every one of those? Probably not,” she said.
As Miller found at Caribou, enforcement of policies can depend on who’s doing the enforcing and the location and type of body decoration.
“It’s mainly just face piercings that they’re super strict about,” she said.
And Hartman, the HR consultant, said often employers are more concerned about young workers’ other dress code infractions.