should I tell a new employee that her facial piercings are limiting the work we’ll give her?

A reader writes:

We have a new employee at our small office with multiple facial piercings. It’s not a problem in our daily office environment and we hired this employee with the facial piercings in place.

The issue is that prior to this employee being hired, our boss required us to remove some of the client-facing duties from this job description.This person was the clear favorite for the job and had great experience, hence why were willing to redo the description a bit.

The employee had applied to the job with the original description and multiple times during the interview process inquired why the client-facing part was removed. For better or worse, the answer was that another employee took it on and we reorganized the office. We also made some other changes to the description/duties too that other employees took on.

While that was all true that we did reorganize, the real reason the client-facing work was removed from this particular person’s job description was because our boss is very traditional and did not want someone with facial piercings representing the office with older and more formal clients.

This employee is doing a great job, but now about six months in, keeps inquiring/offering to take on more of the client-facing work. The entire staff knows why the answer is no, so it is awkward when help on these client visits is offered in staff meetings. I am this person’s direct supervisor but not the one in charge of these decisions. I do plan on pushing for this person doing client work in the future, mostly because I feel like the employee would do a great job and we frankly need the help.

I like to be honest and wanted to be honest initially, but was outvoted. I feel like I should stop the asking for now by speaking to the employee, in private of course, about the reasoning behind the decision.

Is there anything I am overlooking that makes this a bad idea? There is nothing else holding this employee back from doing this work and I feel like it’s a disservice not to explain that facial piercings can hold someone back in the professional world, like it or not.

You need to be frank with the person.

It’s crappy that the whole office knows the real reason except for the person who’s actually asking the question and who’s affected by the answer.

And there’s no reason that this needs to be some dark secret that she can’t be told. Presumably, your boss think the ruling is a reasonable one and therefore should be willing to share it.

When you say that you were “outvoted” when you wanted to be honest, what does that mean exactly? You’re this person’s boss; there’s no reason that this question should be up for a vote.

If I were you, I’d sit down with your boss and say, “Look, I’m increasingly uncomfortable that we haven’t been up-front with Jane that her facial piercings will limit what she can do here. She’s asked repeatedly about taking on client-facing work, and I need to be honest with her about the piercings being the issue. I plan to talk with her about it this week.”

Then be honest with the employee. It’s really unfair that there’s an obstacle limiting her work that she doesn’t even know about.

Frankly, it was unfair to hire her without telling her that it was the reason you reconfigured the job. Had she known that, she might have chosen not to take the position. By hiding it from her, y’all basically denied her the ability to make her own fully informed choice about whether she wanted the position.

Similarly, you owe her all the facts now. She might choose to take out her piercings during the workday in order to get the types of projects she wants there. Or she might choose to go somewhere else where her piercings won’t be a limiting factor in what work she can take on. Or she might change nothing — who knows. But she’s entitled to know the full picture while she’s working there, and to make her own decisions accordingly.

As for your boss’s stance on piercings in general … In many industries and geographic areas, facial piercings aren’t a big deal. In others, they are often widely considered an issue for client-facing work. It really depends on your field and where you live; there’s still a ton of variation on this. But one thing that doesn’t vary is that you should be transparent with employees about things that affect their careers with you.

Tell her.

{ 247 comments… read them below }

  1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    If I was working somewhere and later discovered that the “entire staff” had known and been discussing something like this behind my back, I’d leave of my own accord. It’s too uncomfortably high school gossip for me. Especially if I had been asking about it and getting no answer.

    I would love to get a follow-up on this one!

    1. UKAnon*

      Yes, I think this is the worst bit. I can just about understand the attitude to piercings, but unless you’re up-front about it it comes dangerously close to other situations like ‘we don’t like the way she dresses’ or ‘she’s too ugly to represent the company’.

      Not that I want to poke the OP, who is clearly uncomfortable, but I think that once everyone knows and is avoiding the conversation it becomes a dangerous line to walk.

      1. lawsuited*

        Being concerned that someone doesn’t dress well enough to serve clients and being concerned that they are too “ugly” to serve clients are completely different. Dressing (and, in this case, facial piercings) are not immutable characteristics, whereas physical appearance is. It’s a non-starter to say, “your nose is too crooked to do client-facing work” because well, an employee can’t change the shape of their nose. It’s constructive feedback to say, “your way of dressing/facial piercings aren’t in line with what our very formal clients expect in this industry, and therefore isn’t the right fit for client-facing work” is pretty different because an employee can change the way they dress or remove/hide/modify her piercings.

        1. EvaR*

          Depends on what aspects of the person’s clothing you don’t like. There are too many factors there. Socioeconomic status, age, health issues, skin conditions, hair texture, attempting to hide scars or tattoos, etc. Can all fall under “we don’t like the way she dresses.” And for someone in a role that pays less than a certain amount, it’s definitely unfair to expect them to be able to buy all new clothes ver quickly.

          1. Bunny*

            Also physique. I have been pulled up at previous jobs for wearing clothes that did not violate the company dress code, and which were identical to, or more conservative than, outfits co-workers were wearing, because of the size of my chest.

            And I’m talking, other coworkers wearing oversized tops with such wide necklines that their bra was visible being given a pass, and the HR woman who attended my dress-code meeting wearing a tight top with faux corsetry and a plunging neckline, while the outfit that got me in trouble was a v-neck black t-shirt.

            That said, in this particular case it does sound like it’s *just* the piercings. Which I can understand – a client-facing staff member needs to – within reason – dress according to the clientele they’re serving. And depending on the clientele, facial piercings might not go down well.

    2. Helka*

      Agreed! In her position, I would feel very much disrespected, maybe even humiliated, that I was allowed to ask and ask without getting any kind of honest answer, with everyone but me knowing why.

      If that’s your boss’s stance, the greatest likelihood is that you’re going to lose this employee sooner rather than later, regardless of whether or not you tell her, because you are limiting her growth potential at this job, and it sounds like the customer-facing aspects are something she’s specifically interested in. Being honest lets her make the decision on facts rather than guesswork.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        This is exactly what I was going to say – about her growth. Clearly she wants to grow and take on more work and now they’re just avoiding/ rebuffing her requests? She’s probably baffled as to why and may even think she’s not doing a good job

        1. OP*

          Right now it isn’t an issue as someone else wanted to take on this work (before the person was hired) as a part of a reorg/promotion. So we have someone else doing it, so there’s no room to grow into it.

          But very soon I anticipate that will not be the case as we are swamped and getting more clients. So when it comes up again, I will absolutely be saying something and I just hope that the employee understands that I was put in a difficult situation at the interview time with our boss.

          1. Nerdling*

            So you’re just going to wait until the employee brings it up instead of taking the initiative to answer the questions you know she has?

            1. CarrieT*

              I think you need to sit down and talk through these concerns/policies with her now, as a heads up.

              1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

                Seriously, please do. Be proactive about this.

                If I’d asked and asked and asked and finally, after asking AGAIN, got the real answer? I’d be crushed and/or furious. I’d lose a ton of respect for my supervisor and wonder why on earth no one just told me upfront; am I not an adult? The assumption that I somehow couldn’t “handle” hearing the truth about how the company feels about facial piercings would really irk me.

                Just TELL her. Like, tomorrow.

                By the way, is there anything in your employee handbook about piercings/tattoos/unnatural hair colors? If it’s this big a deal, there probably should be.

                1. EvaR*

                  By the way, is there anything in your employee handbook about piercings/tattoos/unnatural hair colors? If it’s this big a deal, there probably should be.

                  This. This this this. This is why employee handbooks exist, so people don’t have to guess. If there is a dress code, it needs to be in there, even if there is a difference between customer facing and non customer facing. There should emphatically not be a secret hidden unwritten stricter dress code people are supposed to somehow psychically know, even if it isn’t written anywhere.

                2. AGirlCalledFriday*

                  Maybe someone can clarify this for me, but I don’t get why everyone is asking the OP to tell the employee. YES, the employee should have known this, but the OP’s boss has explicitly directed her to not tell. It absolutely sucks, and she should (and has, from the sound of it) push back on it, but ultimately isn’t it the boss’s decision? At what point do we give the advice to follow your boss’s directive, even if it makes you feel icky, or completely defy your boss? Not to mention, if the OP does go ahead and talk to the employee without the consent of her boss, it could affect their working relationship.

              1. OP*

                Yes, my question was more asking if there was any reason I should NOT tell her that I wasn’t thinking through. I absolutely plan on talking about it with her.

                1. Miss M*

                  I think you’re doing her a disservice by waiting. Why not tell her now so that she can come to terms with it and make a decision whether she wants this position or not?

          2. BRR*

            Remember that she might be pissed it wasn’t brought up before. If she’s great and you want to retain her, this might make her not trust “the company.”

          3. Morgan*

            Tell her now. If she only learns after asking yet again, you will look like a bigger wimp than you look right now. Also, she will NOT understand or sympathize with the position you were in. She will only be upset that she has been misled for quite some time.

      2. Cafe Au Lait*

        If I was in this position, I would probably start job hunting if I discovered I wasn’t being told a major reason for not moving into the role I wanted.

    3. Anonymusketeer*

      Hmm yeah, this is bad. If she showed up to the interview with her piercings in, she was likely looking for a job where piercings aren’t a problem. The whole thing is just so dishonest.

      I’m of the opinion that many “old school” higher-ups are wrong when they assume clients will be bothered by piercings or tattoos. To me, neither is inherently unprofessional, so it would come down to the style. But I don’t know your business or your clients.

      Either way, you are always, always better off making your expectations clear from the beginning.

      1. OP*

        I agree and everyone is affirming my gut feeling that I should tell the employee regardless of my boss’s request.

        1. M-C*

          OP, yes I think your gut feeling is right. But you might want to keep the discussion to the higher-up manager having a problem with the piercings, and be careful to skip the global office discussions about them. Bad enough to be held back at work by one person’s prejudice, but to be the object of general high-school level gossip would drive anyone out the door..

          And while you’re at it, discuss with your boss that you feel that you have to tell the employee about the real reason, but also emphasize how competent you feel they are and how good they’d be at dealing with the clients. Maybe the prejudice is wearing thin after long enough exposure :-).

          1. OP*

            Yes absolutely. Also just to be clear, no one is actively discussing it in a gossipy way. It was discussed around this person’s hiring, everyone knows because we’re a small office and everyone is involved in hiring, but hasn’t been mentioned again.

            It will be in the context of that our boss doesn’t care about piercings on a daily basis, but if she wants to move into client facing work in the future, that our boss feels facial piercings are not professional.

            1. Nerdling*

              I would take the conversations with the boss one step further: Is it enough that she remove her piercings while meeting with clients, or is the boss never going to feel comfortable with her in a client-facing role simply because she has them? Because that’s going to go a long way toward her ability to advance, and she deserves to know.

            2. Pill Helmet*

              I was just coming here to ask this. Your letter didn’t lead me to believe that this was being gossiped about, just that they knew that her piercings are holding her back.

              FWIW, slightly different but I used to have a job that required me to be extremely active and on my feet all day in the outdoors. I’m overweight and when I interviewed I was worried that they would be concerned and not hire me because they thought I wouldn’t be up to it. They were concerned and asked me about it in the interview.

              They did a really good job of it too. I was asked how I felt about the level of activity and what work and activities I’d done previously that matched it. Which they may have asked anyone but I felt as if they were pointed questions specifically because of my weight (they were in the third round of interviews). They also pointedly asked if I was up to it without mentioning my weight specifically. I was their top choice but this one aspect concerned them about my ability to do the job.

              I appreciated that they asked me instead of ruling me out or re-configuring the job because of it. I would have been so upset to lose out on the job or the experience I got and never had been asked about it since I was completely up to the challenge. I did get the job and it was never an issue. As with you’re employee, she may have been willing to remove the piercings right away but she was never given the chance to show that.

              1. OP*

                The boss claims if piercings are removed, it would be fine. She is the pickiest person when hiring so I tend to believe that if she felt it was an issue with the daily job she would have found a way to reject this candidate even if we all thought she was the best. She’s tanked people before for far less.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        I agree with your first and third paragraphs. But there are certainly industries and regions where clients would absolutely consider facial piercings to be unprofessional, and we don’t know from the letter whether OP works in such a place/field.

        1. Windchime*

          Yes. I come from a more rural area of the state where facial piercings (even a small nose stud) were absolutely not allowed. Any tattoos could not be visible. The tattoo rule has been relaxed for smaller tattoos, I think. But I worked in a large medical facility and many of our patients were older, and grew up in a time when tattoos were for bike gangs and sailors and scary people. The times are changing and more and more people are understanding that many non-scary people have tattoos and piercings, but in many conservative areas and lines of business, it’s still frowned upon.

          1. Windchime*

            I meant to say the piercings were not allowed at work…..not that they weren’t allowed in my conservative area of the state!

      3. AnonAnalyst*

        I totally agree with you, especially your first and third paragraphs. I don’t have facial piercings, but I have multiple piercings in both ears, and this was something I thought about in my last job search since some companies that hire in my field are in a fairly conservative industry. In previous job searches, I would take all of my earrings out, which was kind of a pain, and frankly something I wasn’t willing to do every day if I were working there. So last time, I decided I wasn’t doing that and that if people weren’t going to hire me because of it, then that company probably wasn’t a good fit for me anyway.

        If you haven’t said anything, she thinks this is a non-issue for your workplace, but if it’s going to severely limit her opportunities with the organization, you need to let her know. It would have been better to do that before hiring her, but definitely let her know now so she can decide how she wants to handle it. Trust me, there’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you’re stuck in a job with no opportunity for advancement or new opportunities only to learn later that you’re doing something that’s holding you back that no one’s told you about (BTDT).

    4. INTP*

      Agreed. Even if you take the hurt feelings out of it, I don’t know if I would trust my boss/coworkers/superiors to help me succeed in the company again. I’d rather be somewhere that I have a good shot at moving up because the requirements to move up are made clear to me. Especially if I knew the whole story – how could you trust your coworkers knowing that they had a VOTE to keep you in the dark about how your fashion choices are limiting you?

    5. OP*

      I agree, I don’t like it, but my boss did not want me to tell the employee.

      Just to be clear it does not matter even for the client facing work if the employee has facial piercings in daily. It would only be on client meeting days.

      I agree. It sucks and I feel like I am between a rock (my boss) and a hard place (not telling the employee what I believe is right).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But you’re really not — you can talk to your boss and explain it’s interfering with your ability to ethically and effectively manage the employee and insist that you need to level with her. That’s part of the responsibility of managing, and really do have to do it.

        1. OP*

          I already did and was told again that it was not necessary to tell the employee. Our boss is difficult to say the least.

          1. Juni*

            Have you considered asking your boss what he sees happening if your employee took out her piercings? Is it possible that he doesn’t see her as having a future with the company regardless of the piercings? Because if you talked to her, and let her know that you had her back in terms of her ability and the limitations she faces in terms of her appearance are not what you’d choose but you’re not the owner, she might say, “If I took them out, what would my future look like here?” And you wouldn’t know.

            1. OP*

              The employee legitimately could move up even without removing the piercings, it’s only client facing work that is an issue. There are also not many places to go. We are a small company and a small office, so unless someone leaves, we don’t know what the future is like.

              The boss is fine with this person doing the client facing work if the piercings were removed and I can have this person assigned to do client facing work once we need someone, but our boss said not without removing the piercings.

              1. Anonsie*

                So boss is keeping this person off client-facing work because of the piercings, you need more people on that type of task and boss would be open to moving her to more if she removed them, but won’t tell her that and won’t let you tell her that. What does he think is going to happen here? How does he think this is going to work out?

                1. Just Another Techie*

                  Seriously. OP’s boss sounds like a major piece of work. I’m starting to think both OP and Pierced Employee should start shopping their resumes around.

                2. OP*

                  Boss doesn’t see the urgency to needing someone else in client work in the future. Those of us who do this work do.

                  I was hoping boss might reevaluate when she got to know this employee personally as well. Which still COULD potentially happen…but I think it’s unlikely which is why I wanted to tell employee.

              2. vox de causa*

                Is your boss afraid of some kind of challenge to her rule about the piercings? I’ve worked for people who had a very fuzzy grasp on what was and was not legal, or what kinds of rights were protected. Often they decided it was safer not to bring things like this out in the open to avoid possible conflicts. I really think they were afraid they’d get sued for making someone remove their piercings, or something.

          2. Sunshine DC*

            Hi OP – there’s “not necessary to tell” and then there’s “you must not tell.” Not necessary, to me, just seems like “not a big deal” or “not important” — not *forbidden.* If that’s the case, then it seems like your boss stated their feeling, not a direct order, leaving room for you to exercise your own management preferences. I think, by continuing to bring it up to your boss, rather than just acting as a manager of the staff reporting to you, if could be a little annoying to your own boss.

            If your boss maintains throughout, on the other hand, that “you must not tell the employee, no matter what”… well ok. Hands (seemingly) tied.

            1. OP*

              This was a don’t tell thing.

              I don’t keep bringing it up, but have when it was natural and appropriate to talk about future path for the office/this employee. I’m not harping on her about it, but she has a tendency to change her mind often too. It’s a process always!

      2. the_scientist*

        I have so much sympathy for you for being stuck here…..but your boss’s resistance to talking to this employee is asinine. What is his rationale, here? What is the endgame? If the situation stays as is, I can almost guarantee that one of two things will happen:
        1) employee finds out the true reason from a co-worker. Employee’s trust is destroyed, she ends up leaving.
        2) employee realizes she can’t advance and can’t get a straight answer as to why, trust is destroyed, ends up leaving.

        Frankly, I think this situation is not going to be salvageable even if you do tell your employee, but the only hope you have of making it right at this point is to tell her. I’m just really curious about what your boss is thinking- like, “yes, let’s hire this really awesome, strong candidate but then change the job description and prevent her from taking on additional work and advancing her career because she has piercings. We can’t possibly tell her that’s why though! We’ll just wait until she gets frustrated and leaves, instead!”.

        1. OP*

          Because our boss is very passive aggressive and non-confrontational. I could say other things but I will leave it at that. :)

          The boss wants to be seen as open and accepting, but is very much not. A big conflict between personal view of how she is and reality…

  2. CollegeAdmin*

    As someone with several piercings (although not facial ones), I agree with Alison that you did her a disservice by not mentioning it in the interview and allowing her to either self-select out of the process or choose to remove her piercings for the job.

    I was once hired for a retail job, showed up for orientation/training, and then was told that I could only have one piercing per ear. I have 7-8 total (depending on how you count – 2 holes for one spiral piece of jewelry) and was very irritated by the sudden rule. The compromise they made was that I could wear my hair down during my shift and not tuck it behind my ear. I was not at that job long.

    1. Yep*

      I have a lip piercing and used to have a an eyebrow piercing (also tongue, but I’m not one of those people where that’s obvious) . I interviewed with a retail job in college and was told at their interview I’d have to take them out. I started work and found I had a coworker who had his entire face pierced – multiple in mouth, multiple in tongue, multiple in the eyebrows, nose, etc. I was like, well eff this.

      Yeah, it sucks when something suddenly changes after your initial interview like this. I do think OP realizes that this ship has sailed and is therefore inquiring on what to do going forward.

      1. OP*

        Again just to be clear it has no impact on the job this employee was hired for, there was no bait and switch, only on moving up. It still sucks and I hate to be put in this position.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          That’s still a bait and switch though. Very few people take jobs with no interest in moving up, especially people who inquire about the type of work they’re being held back from.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            It’s unfair but not necessarily “bait and switch”–it depends on what the employee was told. But either way, it’s unfair.

        2. Judy*

          I thought you said they changed the job description between the interview and hiring the employee? Even if it were 1% client facing before, it is still a different job than what was offered.

          1. OP*

            Not quite, sorry if that was unclear. It was changed during the hiring process because we reorganized. The employee still had the majority of interviews (2/3) after the description was changed. The job offered is what this employee is doing 100%.

        3. Bwmn*

          I think why people are mentioning the bait and switch aspect is because the employee wasn’t given a chance to take or decline this job knowing how she actually stood in relation to the organization. I used to work for a hospital that had some pretty definitive guidelines regarding piercings/visible tattoos – but it was well known that in certain types of jobs they were more inclined to let it slide. But the nature of these manuals made it clear that while certain research assistants, maintenance staff would not be chased down for these guidelines – that if you wanted to be promoted to management (of research assistants or maintenance), you would need to find a way to address all tattoo and piercing requirements. The fact that this employee was never given the heads up on the barriers in this job to do other tasks – and in a small company this is even more obvious – is going to read as information withheld. Particularly if there’s no employee handbook that makes note of piercings.

          If the only way for this employee to move up (or laterally) was to obtain a new degree/certification – and every time she asked about pursuing a promotion or lateral move and no one told her that x degree/certification was required, it would be the same thing. With the piercings or new training, an employee can always decide not to take that on. But not telling her is cruel.

    2. lawsuited*

      If you think the sudden rule about piercings (which, to be fair, are pretty common in retail dress codes) was bad, imagine my surprise when I showed up for my first of work at a law firm and was told that women were required to wear pants only, never skirts or dresses (of any length, even with pantihose/tights). It was a pretty unusual rule for an office job where I was sitting at desk all day, and I had to get rid of all my expensive skirt suits!

      1. neverjaunty*

        That’s really weird, what was the rationale? I know some old school law firms tried to hang onto the “skirt suits only, pant suits are too casual” rule, but this is backward.

        1. lawsuited*

          The rationale was totally gross: that women’s legs would be “distracting” in the office, so best to cover them with pants. That’s why I was upset to find out about the rule after I’d accepted the position, because it was very indicative of some overly controlling workplace practices.

      2. LPBB*

        Pants only? That is so bizarre! As a short woman with a high rise and thicker thighs and calves than designers think a woman with my waist measurement should have, I have trouble finding flattering pants. I would not be happy about that dress code at all.

        1. Anonsie*

          Oh god I was just going through this yesterday. I’m short, I was trying on all these slacks and my thighs are just too big. I asked my boyfriend how one pair looked and he asked why the top parts were bagged out on the sides… I’m like, that’s my leg meat bruh.

        2. FiveWheels*

          I wonder what country this was – I’m always surprised that in the USA a skirt suit is seen as more professional, the opposite is true here. I once saw a judge refuse to hear a barrister because she was wearing visible lipstick.

          1. neverjaunty*

            It’s a cultural hangover from the “Dress for Success” days of the 1980s, where women were supposed to wear feminized versions of men’s clothes lest someone get the vapors that they were trying to look like men.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I think in some professions it pre-dates the 1980s. I haven’t done research on it, but from my book and movie references, there was a time when a woman could wear pants but it generally wasn’t considered formal or professional. A suit for women would only be a skirt suit. And in some professions, they were very slow to evolve from that idea.

          2. Anonsie*

            The US has always had a Women Wear Skirts sort of culture, my mother and her sisters weren’t allowed to wear pants to school in the 60’s and I think it only changed in the 70’s where they lived. There was a push for pants to become more acceptable around then as part of the wave of feminism at the time and it was seen as a modern and progressive new thing that was heavily associated with that.

            Despite the fact that this seems like it was a long time ago, consider the current ages of people who would have been around to observe that movement. So the idea that skirts are traditional and pants are trendy and indicative of change has still kind of stuck with us. The powersuit push in the 80’s came off that and reinforced it for younger people as well.

          3. lawsuited*

            It was in Canada, which has a similar work culture to the U.S. Many law firms (and other businesses) here with a very formal dress code require skirt suits for women because they are considered the most formal, so my experience was definitely an anomaly and not representative of wider work culture.

        3. Elder Dog*

          Get the size that fits your thighs and have the waist taken in. Check with your dry cleaner if you don’t know of any local tailors. Might cost $20 or so.

          1. Anonsie*

            It’s not that they don’t fit, is that they look dumb because my shape is not flattered by any particular cut of slacks.

      3. alter_ego*

        I literally have not worn pants in about 3 years. Like, other than the yoga pants I wear to work out, I don’t even own a pair of pants. I cannot even IMAGINE having that happen to me. I’d buy like, 2 pairs to alternate and then immediately begin looking for other places to work.

        I really really hate wearing pants.

        1. lawsuited*

          I more or less had to buy a whole new work wardrobe, because I had mostly skirts and dresses with maybe 2 pairs of dress pants. It was dreadful. (And I no longer work there.)

        2. Anon1234*

          Wait? There are others like us out there? I’ve been asked if I belong to fundamentalist religious sects because I never wear pants!

        3. EvaR*

          You are me. I am plus sized, pear shaped, and rather tall. I have found exactly one pair of pants in my life that didn’t make me look dumpy and kind of rumpled. I literally look cleaner in skirts because they fit better. Haven’t owned a pair of nonworkout or pj pants in about 4 years. Would immediately look elsewhere even if I was hired for my dream job and they sprung that on me.

      4. Jessa*

        Were they trying to force out all the Jewish and conservative Christian women who don’t wear trousers for religious reasons?

  3. RaneBoe Bright*

    I just don’t understand why you all weren’t upfront about this from the jump. Alison is right, this limited the employee’s ability to make an informed decision regarding their career.

    And please don’t hold it against them if they decide to look for work elsewhere.

  4. Apollo Warbucks*

    I think it was pretty unfair to let her take the job with out telling her, especially when the employee asked a number of times in the interview process there where plenty of chances to tell her!

    Give her the choice now to see what she wants to do and help her come up with a compromise if possible.

    1. fposte*

      It also means that the job she interviewed for isn’t actually the job she got. Which happens, but in this case it was in direct response to her, so it wasn’t a surprise that nobody had any control over.

    2. OP*

      My boss asked me not to and I also was not in the interview where it initially came up. Someone else avoided the question.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Your boss sounds like a jerk. “Hey, let’s lie to this employee so she’ll work for us, because she’ll decline the job if we’re honest.”

        1. OP*

          Yup. Though to be fair it was removed before the interview process was over, so the employee did know the job they were accepting. She “just” refused to be honest about why client facing work would not be in this employee’s future if it were to become available again.

    3. Ed*

      I used to work at a very conservative K-12 school district and we never hired anyone with non-traditional piercings or visible tattoos. I personally have no issues with either but our administration forbid it. We would interview a really great candidate with a nose piercing and then as soon as she left, say “well, that’s a shame” and move on to the next candidate.We didn’t give them the opportunity to remove it because we thought they had a high chance of putting it back in eventually. We didn’t have a formal policy in place so we couldn’t actually fire someone for that reason so we simply didn’t hire them in the first place. Not fair but then life’s not fair.

      1. Anonsie*

        Not fair but then life’s not fair.

        I would argue there are a lot of reasons that striving for overall fairness and openness in hiring and retaining employees is good management, but alrighty.

        Interesting you mentioned nose piercings specifically, too. Doesn’t that have an awfully high potential to run afoul of religious discrimination in hiring? Pretty sure I’ve seen at least one case where it was ruled that allowing nose piercings is reasonable religious accommodation but I’m not sure the national trend on that one.

          1. Anonsie*

            But Ed’s saying they wouldn’t tell the candidates, they just got auto-rejected. How would they even know when they needed to employ such an exception?

            1. fposte*

              That’s an interesting point–I think you’re onto something there. I’m betting they made guesses based on general appearance and presentation, but if they ever guess wrong, they’re asking for trouble.

              1. Anonsie*

                Yeah I would think trying to guess if it could be religious based on race or ethnicity is not a super great idea.

              2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                I don’t know – I think that the employee would have some responsibility to speak up if there was no way for the employer to know that it was a religious thing. 99% of people with facial piercings (in my area at least) are for sure doing it for some reason that has nothing to do with religion.

                1. Anonsie*

                  That’s why they’d have to tell the candidate if it’s a problem for the company, though. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect them to walk into every interview and go “GUYS guys let’s get one thing straight first, this piercing is part of my religion” apropos of nothing.

                2. fposte*

                  In practice, you’re right; in legal theory, however, I think it’s more complicated–the Supreme Court overturned the appellate ruling that made the claim it was up to the employee to disclose a religious basis for garb. Now, Scalia did say that basically the company likely had at least a decent guess that there was a religious basis, so the decision didn’t say it was up to the employer always to be sure there was no religious component to the element of appearance. But I could see the overturning of that appellate decision as a problem in future claims.

                3. Broke Law Student*

                  Sure, but if I’m wearing a piercing for a religious reason, and the employer does NOT tell me that I’m being rejected for the piercing, thereby denying me the opportunity to say that it was religious in nature, that seems radically unfair. I’m pretty sure that would actually run afoul of the recent Abercrombie case.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        That’s funny because it doesn’t really get much more traditional than *nose* piercing. I guess just non-western traditional is what they mean. So even the nostril with a barely-there stud is off limits? Or did the candidate have the septum pierced?

      3. TheLazyB*

        Well I got my nose pierced two years ago at 37 when I’d been in my job five years. How would your employer handle that?!

        1. TheLazyB*

          Also I put in a spacer when I’m interviewing which is not very obvious. So if interviewing you wouldn’t necessarily know.

      4. ohgoodness~*

        Well, that’s ill thought out. Just tell them they can’t /wear/ it at work. Geeze. I mean, that’s like not hiring someone who wears jeans sometimes when jeans aren’t part of your dress code cause they might just wear jeans to work sometime.

      5. KellyK*

        If it was an absolute deal-breaker, why not put a formal policy in place? It seems silly to write off otherwise good candidates for reasons that might be a non-issue if you just told them.

  5. CaliCali*

    The sad thing is that this seems like a driven, ambitious employee who, based on the evidence at hand, would probably voluntarily remove said piercings if she knew they were an obstacle. I think the boss is assuming this is something that is automatically known, but if NO ONE HAS SAID ANYTHING, how can she know? As Alison mentioned, they are not inherently unprofessional, and especially if no one has ever raised an objection to them, there isn’t even a signal she would know they’re unprofessional in this climate and circumstance. I’d be furious if I’d found out that something physical — and furthermore, something changeable — was the reason I wasn’t able to move ahead in my career.

    1. OP*

      I’m pretty sure this person actually won’t remove them, but I still feel like we should have been honest about the reasons. I hate that I was put in this position and now need to untangle it.

      I think it was a misguided attempt during interviewing to avoid any lawsuits, despite me telling my boss that facial piercings were not a protected class and we could certainly mention that it would be hinderance with client facing opportunities in the future.

      1. fposte*

        And if it were illegal, discriminating against her taking on other duties, as your office is, would make you vulnerable in a lawsuit as well.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If your boss still resists on that basis, point out that if they WERE a protected class (which they’re not), what y’all did would still violate the law. You can’t take any adverse employment action on the basis of a protected class; for example, you couldn’t rejigger a job description to keep an employee of Race X away from client-facing work because of her race, just like you couldn’t decide not to hire her because of her race.

        Your boss is totally wrong that the law comes into play here, but if he’s concerned about it and doesn’t believe you, you can point out that he’d still be in violation.

        1. OP*

          Based on other personality traits and ways she is not interested in adhering to other social/office norms…it was more of an issue at another job she worked at previously, but she’s told me a number of stories. I don’t want to give specific examples in case someone I know reads here.

        2. HR Pro*

          I don’t have facial piercings other than my ears but it’s my understanding that facial piercings are likely to close up very quickly when they are taken out. I think I’ve heard that a tongue piercing can close up in a number of hours, for instance. So that would be a reason why someone who has facial piercings probably wouldn’t remove them.

  6. Yep*

    I bet the employee is thinking one of two things. One, she knows what’s up and is trying to get the company to own up to it. Or two, she’s thinking, “They hired me with my piercings so that can’t be it, what am I missing here? There must be something I’m doing wrong I haven’t realized.”

    As someone who has their lip pierced and takes it out for work, I personally think it’s reasonable to ask her to remove her piercings when interacting with clients, if you’re willing to give her this option. Yes, you realize that it doesn’t affect her work, and yes it sucks, but it is what it is and you’re not willing to lose those older and/or more traditional clients over it.

    1. Career Counselorette*

      …she’s thinking, “They hired me with my piercings so that can’t be it, what am I missing here? There must be something I’m doing wrong I haven’t realized.”

      Seriously. I know how anxious I am about my performance and my tendency to overanalyze all the variables if there’s something I’m not getting, so to know the reason why you’ve removed this responsibility and not tell the employee feels like the biggest game of gotcha ever.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      “They hired me with my piercings so that can’t be it, what am I missing here?

      I would be thinking this if I were in this employee’s shoes. Conflict avoidance is such a terrible management style and I really think this is what is at play here. I am totally surprised they would not have mentioned the piercings during the interview stage. This employee wore them to interviews so obviously she wasn’t keeping any secrets. I have seen people wear neutral nail polish or hair dye spray for interviews and when they get the job they show up with the purple hair they hid under black spray and it is realized their nails are actually claws because they are now highlighted in bright pink neon polish.

        1. Dana*

          +1000 She could have been wearing the piercings with the hope of finding a job that accepted her for who she was. You did in appearance, but not in reality. That super sucks.

      1. INTP*

        Same. I would probably think it was something about my personality that they thought clients wouldn’t respond to and, frankly, wonder whether I had a future in the company or if they were waiting for an opportunity to get me out.

        I don’t even get what they’re so afraid of here. That she’ll quit because she’s asked to take her piercings out for client meetings? Or just the whole office is so terrified of confrontation that they can’t even deal with the idea of this woman’s direct supervisor speaking to her? I mean, it’s not like she could sue, unless maybe the piercings are of religious significance (which I think the OP would have mentioned if that were a possibility).

      2. OP*

        Just to be clear, the job description was changed BEFORE the hiring. It was during the process. We also have no problem with the piercings on a daily basis. So this was not a bait and switch. It is more of a “this work that you’d like to do, that is not in your job description, won’t be attainable for you unless you remove your piercings during client-facing work”.

        1. Nerdling*

          Except that you didn’t actually tell her that. You changed it but didn’t bring the change or the reason for it to her attention. How was she supposed to know?

          1. OP*

            Hey I totally agree that we should have told her. That is why I wrote the letter asking if there was any reason NOT to tell her. I certainly plan on it after hearing everyone’s answer is unequivocally yes despite my boss’s request not to tell her. Ugh.

            1. fposte*

              Sorry, it sounds like you’re the one trying to do the right thing here. It’s just that your boss isn’t here for us to yell at.

            2. Sadsack*

              I am so curious, what was your boss’ reason for not wanting to put this issue out front during the hiring process?

            3. AnonEMoose*

              You know, if I were in your shoes, I’d be starting to wonder what my boss might not be telling me. If he’s willing to treat your direct report this way, what’s stopping him from being less than straightforward with you?

              Regardless of whether or not that’s an issue, your boss is being asinine about this.

              1. the gold digger*

                “GD never wears jewelry and she wears the same five outfits, week after week. She rarely has peanut M&Ms in her Emergency Chocolate Drawer. She does OK work, but I can never promote her. How could I promote someone who doesn’t always have the right candy?”

            4. M-C*

              Poor OP, are -you- happy with this boss? Sounds like they could be underhanded with everyone you work with, yourself included. I wonder whether you should be honest with piercings-employee, see where they land eventually, and maybe consider following them there :-).

              1. OP*

                Just like any job there are good things and bad. The good far outweighs the bad for me at this moment. In reality everything else is wonderful. Hours, coworkers, actual work…other than dealing with my boss.

                But this kind of thing is what will make me quit eventually, I like being honest and I HATE this about my boss.

                My boss wants to be perceived as open, cool, and accepting, but in reality is very old school.

                1. Dynamic Beige*

                  My boss wants to be perceived as open, cool, and accepting, but in reality is very old school.

                  I haven’t read all the comments, so someone has probably already suggested this. Go out for lunch (or drinks after work) with this employee alone and tell them the score. “When we were hiring, we were structuring in a way that your position was never going to be client facing. You’ve probably noticed that we are taking on more clients and you have been asking to do that kind of work. The problem is that our boss… isn’t very hip. They like to think that they’re cool and progressive but they’re not and to be honest, they have a really big problem with [leather jackets/black eyeliner/hair colour not found in nature/Betty Page haircuts/tattoos/whatever] and… piercings. They feel that it’s not professional when dealing with our clients because they are [older/mature/rich/whatever] and unfortunately, Boss isn’t going to change their opinion on this. I know you’ve had problems with this in the past at other jobs and I’m sorry that it’s happening again because if it were up to me I [wouldn’t care/would move you into client facing/whatever] because your skills are terrific and you really have a good grasp of what we do here/how we service our clients [other good thing about how they do their job]. I understand if you decide that you do not wish to remain in this job, but please give me some notice that you are going to leave so I can prepare.” Your employee sounds like a smart cookie and they probably have already guessed that Boss is all four corners. I doubt this news will come as any huge surprise to them, all they have to do is look around the office at who gets to do what to put it together.

                  When I had to train some people, I felt kind of bad about it, because I knew they were not being hired with potential to move up in the company, the company wanted warm bodies to do the donkey work, people who weren’t that ambitious but had some talent. I felt kind of like a Judas goat. One day, I was outside with one of them and they looked me square in the eye and just asked what the deal was with why they were there. It was kind of a relief to say it, but it’s better to know the score and decide accordingly then fumble about in the dark.

            5. Yep*

              I hear you. I do think this makes a difference and is maybe something to emphasize when you have this conversation with her. I agree with Alison that you need to first talk to you boss about it, which is going to suck.

            6. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

              I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. Your boss sounds difficult to work for.

        2. Judy*

          Did you send the new job description to the employee with the offer? Was the client facing work was in the job posting? Was it discussed in the interview?

          1. OP*

            The new job description was during the interview process, the employee had a few weeks to mull it over during the interview process and before accepting.

            It was in the original posting, but we revised it fairly significantly. This was not the only thing moved/removed, but it just is the only one that this employee will be held back from in the future.

        3. INTP*

          I don’t think that detail would change the fact that I would question my own performance and other issues I and others mentioned after repeated rejections for client facing work. If the client-facing work is there, other people are having it added onto their plates, it’s a logical extension of her own role, and she has the time to do it on top of her other duties, then she’s still going to wonder why her requests to get involved in it have all been rejected and assume it has something to do with her.

          (I’m not posting this to pile onto the criticism – I don’t mean it as a critique of you. I just wanted to point out that the fact that the role was restructured early on doesn’t necessarily affect the fact that she is going to wonder why she isn’t given responsibilities that otherwise seem logical for her to take on. And she’s likely to assume that it has something to do with her performance or personality or whether the company wants to help her grow.)

        4. Jessa*

          Um if the description was changed AFTER they saw her (during the process) then it is exactly bait and switch. Can you clarify whether “during the process,” means before or after they physically saw her? Because if it’s before, okay that’s neutral, but if it’s after, it’s not. And she might have chosen to self select out, and is now stuck. Possibly because she believes you shouldn’t quit before x time, possibly because she thinks it doesn’t matter, or it’s hard to find work.

          1. OP*

            Everything was in motion before we interviewed her in person, but the decision to specifically make sure we did not put client facing work in the new JD happened after we interviewed her. It’s very very likely it would have ended up that way anyway, but my boss did specifically say when we were working on reorganizing to make sure someone else took that part.

            1. Bunny*

              I’m ill right now, so my brain is working a little slow, but I’m getting confused. Would it be okay to ask you to clarify?

              So if the job description was changed after the interview, at what point was the *new* job description brought specifically to the attention of your now-employee? Right now it kind of sounds like the job description was changed – and updated on wherever you were advertising – and that the assumption was that this would be sufficient for the new hire? Was she directly, specifically, by a person, informed of the changes *prior* to accepting a job offer?

              Because if not, it could be that she’s asking so much because she’s feeling like she’s not doing the job she was hired for. Which tends to freak people out about their job security.

      3. Pennalynn Lott*

        Ha! That happened at a high-end store I worked at back in the late 80’s. The owners interviewed — and hired — a lovely young woman who had long, sandy blonde hair, who had on only a little bit of mascara and lip gloss, and who was wearing a very tasteful sun dress with flats. But the person who showed up to work a couple days later had a green mohawk, black nails, goth-like makeup, neon-striped leggings and was wearing motorcycle boots with a million buckles on them [I actually thought the boots were pretty cool]. Everyone was stunned, to say the least. The owners were *very* conservative and wouldn’t even let her clock in. She was fired before she could even start working.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      Jumping on this bandwagon. Either she knows and is trying to get an honest answer, or she is quietly freaking out because she thinks she’s doing something wrong and quite legitimately wants to know what it is.

      And if I were in her position and found out that “everyone” knew and was deliberately keeping it from me, I would absolutely be leaving as soon as possible. Depending on the field, I might even quit and do temporary or contract work until I found something else. Because I would feel humiliated and that I could not trust anyone in that workplace, especially not my boss, to be honest with me about anything. Been there, done that, and it’s incredibly poisonous.

      Tell her. You owe her that much, at least.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I agree–they should give her the option to remove them during those meeting days. It’s not much considering, but it’s better than leaving things as they are.
      And this boss sucks. Sorry, but she does.

    5. Jennifer*

      Part of me does think, “Why wouldn’t your facial piercings be the very first thing you’d think of when you wonder why nobody wants you to see clients face to face,” though. Especially if you know they cut that out of your job description.

      I dunno, I just tend to think that you shouldn’t do things to your face/hands that might rule you out of a job. You never know if someday you’ll be desperate to get a job where that’s a problem.

      1. Saturn9*

        Most places where those things are an issue are either in industries where displaying unconventional aesthetic preferences isn’t done (in which case you can decide to remove the piercings/cover the tattoos while interviewing and while working in that industry) or the interviewer does you the courtesy of saying something about their company’s policy on aesthetics prior to or during the interview (in which case you can decide whether to remove the piercings/cover the tattoos while working that job).

  7. Ash (the other one)*

    Also note that some states/jurisdictions have protections for “personal appearance” (DC being one of them), so be careful here…

    1. illini02*

      Really? While I think piercings are fine, I also think it should be an employers right to have client facing employees adhere to certain appearance standards. It seems like a bit too much “protection”.

      1. fposte*

        It seems to cover more than actual looks, so piercings would be an interesting question under it:

        “‘Personal appearance’ means the outward appearance of any person, irrespective of sex, with regard to bodily condition or characteristics, manner or style of dress, and manner or style of personal grooming, including, but not limited to, hair style and beards. It shall not relate, however, to the requirement of cleanliness, uniforms, or prescribed standards, when uniformly applied for admittance to a public accommodation, or when uniformly applied to a class of employees for a reasonable business purpose; or when such bodily conditions or characteristics, style or manner of dress or personal grooming presents a danger to the health, welfare or safety of any individual.”

        On the one hand, you’ve got protection of “manner or style of dress” including “hair style and beards”; on the other, you’ve got support for “prescribed standards” and “reasonable business purpose.” I think this one might be too close to call in advance, especially without knowing the field the OP works in.

          1. fposte*

            It would seem utterly untenable if it prevented employers from having any clothing restrictions; sounds like it’s been worked out more pragmatically in actual legal practice. But it’s really broad wording.

            Digging into it also led me to encounter the fact that a British workplace apparently had Naked Friday, though it was noted as a publicity stunt.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              There was just a big Naked Cycle thing in London. 0_0 >_<

              Imagine doing that from work–"Be right back, boss, I have to ride in the Naked Cycle Day parade on my lunch." While walking out the door naked.

              1. TheLazyB*

                I….. had a dream the other day when I had colleagues in my house and was walking around naked. I remember dream-wondering whether I should be bothered about this. I think I went with no.

                I am not a naturist or anything. Maybe my brain thinks I should be?

                I’d totally forgotten till reading this!

              2. Bunny*

                Oh, the naked cycling thing. That happened down here in Kent a few months back. My best friend was visiting at the time, and I had no idea this was a Thing. So we were just chilling out in a local park one day when we saw them all ride past.

                Gave us something to talk about, at least!

  8. nona*

    I think you/someone should let her know. Depending on the piercings, it could be very easy to hide them, wear less noticeable jewelry, or wear almost-invisible jewelry that’s made especially for this. It’s no big deal.

  9. Natalie*

    Oh lord. I can virtually guarantee that she’s aware that her piercings “can hold someone back in the professional world, like it or not”. You won’t be shattering her world to tell her that this is one of those positions. She might be irritated to find out that this has been true from the get-go and no one told her (I certainly would) but there’s nothing you can do about that now. Don’t compound your original mistake by continuing to keep this information from her.

    1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      Oh my, yes. No one with facial piercings is under the delusion that they will present the same image as a clean-cut prep school kid wearing a Brooks Brothers suit. They know. Really, they know. But what this employee doesn’t know is how it’s affecting her specifically in this workplace.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

        *But what this employee doesn’t know is how it’s affecting her specifically in this workplace.*

        ^ Exactly!

      2. Whatsername*

        So much this!

        Not only is the employee being denied the opportunity to make informed decisions about her career, management in this case is enabling an environment where everyone else talks about the situation behind her back.

      3. OP*

        Yeah that is what I was hoping, that despite my boss’s insistence that we NOT tell her, that she could read between the lines initially. But it didn’t happen and though I wish I had gone against my boss initially, I am absolutely going to say something.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, I don’t think there were even any lines to read between. Your boss is sucking at this.

        2. Natalie*

          I think you should consider that she *did* read between the lines. If I wear my jewelry in during an interview and am offered the job with no “hey, head’s up, don’t wear your piercings in when you have client meetings”, what’s being communicated between the lines, IMO, is that my piercings are fine.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Yes, this! So far it sounds like everything that’s happened in your interactions with this employee has given her the impression that it’s fine, so if it’s not, someone needs to tell her. Assuming she’ll just pick up on it is a terrible way to manage people. Your boss sucks at this.

    2. Oryx*

      Seriously. I don’t have piercings but I have tattoos and anyone with any kind of body modification is entirely aware of the professional….challenges said modifications may present. To point this out to the employee would just be patronizing.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I once had a neighbor who was taken by surprise, actually, that her huge tattoo that covered her entire chest up to her neck would cause a problem with some employers. But she was clueless about a lot of things that seemed obvious under any standard of common sense. She’s the only person with any kind of modification I’ve met who wasn’t aware of that kind of thing, though.

      2. Amanda*

        Truth. I have 35+ tattoos, some of which are hard/impossible to cover. Not only am I aware of potential challenges (I liked your phrasing!), but also if an employer/potential employer doesn’t tell me I need to keep my tattoos covered, I’m going to rightfully assume that it’s cool for them to visibly show.

        If no one said anything and expected me to just *know* that it’s not OK *in that specific office* –and if everyone else in the office knew!–I would be pissed/confused/ready to quit.

      3. Saturn9*

        We are all aware of the challenges in general, in order to be aware of the challenges in regard to specific employers, they have to tell us.

        I would find it far more patronizing to consistently be fed excuses and lies rather than be told–weeks or months–later that the facial piercings I’d worn to the interview and been wearing in the workplace were (surprise!) keeping the Big Boss from wanting me to be assigned duties that were originally part of the role I’d been hired for but had been reorganized out during the interview process. (Still sounds reeeaaally sketchy..)

    3. Just Another Techie*

      Yes. She showed up to the interview wearing the jewelry which almost certainly means she was trying to let conservative workplaces reject her upfront. I’m guessing it was her way of trying to filter out exactly this kind of situation. I really feel for her as someone who dresses very carefully to cover up tattoos, and stopped dying my hair in order to be hireable at the places I wanted to work. I’ve made different choices in years past, and I would be quite angry and insulted if someone pull this kind of thing on me, when I made no effort to hide the tattoos and blue hair during the interview process.

      1. Oryx*

        Agreed. I stopped covering up my wrist tattoos or wearing long sleeves in interviews because if an organization doesn’t want to hire me because of those then that’s not an environment in which I’d be happy.

        1. OP*

          Agreed, but it isn’t a problem with the daily parts of this job. Only with moving into a different area of work at our office.

          We are very happy to have this employee, piercings and all, but it does limit some of the growth that this person can do with clients. Sucks to be in this position betraying my boss or betraying an employee.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Well, you’re not betraying your boss. Your boss is betraying this employee and dragging you into it.

              1. Amanda*

                If I were in your shoes I would just really question working in an environment that is so passive aggressive and crappy at upper level management.

                1. OP*

                  I agree, everything else is pretty great and boss is so rarely here that daily life is pretty excellent though. But she makes us all question our sanity for working here at least weekly. :)

    4. Tinker*

      I wonder if part of the problem here is that the person is also aware that her piercings *don’t* necessarily have to hold her back. From my perspective, given that I present myself in a way that is somewhat nonstandard, I’m aware that there are some people who don’t approve of that and some workplaces where I would be held back, but I don’t have to deal with them because I concern myself mostly with the ones for which it is not a problem. So I don’t see my choices as far as presentation as necessarily having a direct tradeoff with what I do professionally, but rather something that influences which corporate cultures are a better fit while considering that there is no mode of presentation that is universally optimal.

      This is why I dress in interviews in a way that’s consistent in theme (although at a higher formality level) with the way I dress on a day-to-day basis; it avoids surprises. If I did have facial piercings, I’d likewise wear something to the interview that would reflect what I would ordinarily wear to work. And having done this and gotten hired without comment, I’d think that I had probably found an “it doesn’t matter” type workplace.

      Meanwhile, I get a sense from the boss’s actions that they operate according to a social model where it need not be specified that here the piercings are an issue because obviously they are objectively so. There is a universally optimal presentation, and facial piercings are not it. The only bit that’s up in the air in that case is whether the employee should be directly lectured about the fact that they are holding themselves back or not, and if the set of traditional rules in question is a Guess Culture one then the answer is obviously not.

      So, potentially, this is a problem of having different mental models regarding what is reasonable and how to communicate about it.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I like everything about this post. It would have been nice if the employee had been given all the tools to determine the right cultural fit.

      2. OP*

        Agreed fully. We did explain many times that our boss is more conservative, etc. in the interviews especially with clients, so I tried to do everything possible without telling the employee that piercings would hold her back from client facing work because the boss specifically asked me not to.

        Ugh, the whole situation just stinks.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I think if I’d been her in this situation, I would have read this as “take the piercings out before the client meeting” and still thought it would be fine–not that it would mean losing that work entirely and pre-emptively.

          1. OP*

            I agree, though there were other reasons it was removed at the time too, see office reorg above. So even if employee came tomorrow and said “if I remove my piercings can I do client visits” the answer would be “not right now, Xavier is covering it, but when we need someone in the future we’d absolutely consider you”.

    5. Anonsie*

      Yeah this is something that really burns my grits, when people act like anyone who does something (borrowing from Tinker above) nonstandard with their appearance or demeanor is only doing it because they don’t realize there may be tradeoffs or pitfalls to how people will react. I mean, sure, there are clueless people out there, but assuming we only do it because we don’t know better is assuming that no one would ever do anything you found distasteful if only we weren’t so ignorant.

    6. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

      Seriously. There’s a reason I always, always interview with my eyebrow bar in and my wrist tattoos on display — because I don’t want to work somewhere where I’m going to have to cover them up all the time!

  10. Dawn*

    “This person was the clear favorite for the job and had great experience”

    That may be true but they had a dealbreaker for the job as it was written- a bunch of facial piercings. You guys did her a serious disservice by not bringing that up from the get go- and the vast majority (if not all) piercings have options for going “stealth” so it might not have been a big deal for her at all to either wear clear jewelry or take them out temporarily. But again, since you didn’t bring it up with her at all from the get go, you assumed things that you didn’t know, and took away her agency in the situation completely by just guessing what she would say or what would happen (I’m assuming that you didn’t mention anything because you thought it’d be a deal-breaker and she wouldn’t accept the job.)

    1. louise*

      Obviously it’s too late now, but I’m thinking about what (and when) the ideal response to the candidate would have been…maybe: “We’d like to offer you the position, but there are few things to iron out. Our company doesn’t allow facial piercings in customer-facing roles, but isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker for us. We’re so interested in you that we’re willing to reassign some of the job, which would allow you to maintain your style. We think you’d be a great asset and we truly don’t mind changing the job around a little to work with you. Or, if you’re really interested in the job with the customer facing component, you’d have the option to remove the piercings during work hours.”

      1. OP*

        There were other reasons that job duties were reassigned, it really was not the piercings specifically. So the job was being moved around a bit even if it was someone else who had applied.

        BUT my boss specifically did not add the client facing opportunities at all into this role, when even under the reorg, it’s possible this person could move into that role in the future.

        I hope that makes sense.

        1. Anna*

          It makes more sense now, but it seems your boss is going through some pretty arduous acrobatics to avoid confronting the issue with this employee and that’s the part that doesn’t make sense.

        2. louise*

          That makes a lot of sense, and I think kind of gives you an excuse for not having brought this up sooner that you wouldn’t have had if piercings were the only reason for the restructure.

          At this point you could word it as “we wanted someone to really settle into this role and see their potential before deciding what kind of client facing opportunities to add. We think you’re doing a fantastic job, and we’re excited that you’d like to grow more. The only thing is, our client facing folks need to adhere to a little stricter dress code and facial piercings don’t fit into that. Since you’re eager to take on some of those additional roles, would you be willing to remove the piercings for work?” Depending on the reaction, maybe add: “It’s certainly not something we’d want to lose you over–we really appreciate your work!–but it does mean we can’t expand your position much beyond the current scope.”

          1. louise*

            You might still lose the person, but I think it relieves a little of the “why the heck did you wait so long to bring this up??” reaction that so many commenters have had.

            1. OP*

              Thanks, it is excellent wording. It’s only come up again in the last few weeks which is also why I didn’t bring it up again. Seemed like dredging up something that might not have been necessary. Now that we are seeing an uptick and need in the future for someone else to help with the client facing trips it’s come up again and it’s clear she’s still interested.

              This wouldn’t really move the person up in the sense of a promotion either, it would just be expansion of duties. So it’s not holding someone back from getting promoted, it’s really just whether the person has an interest in this work or not.

          2. ReanaZ*

            Yeah, I’m on team “There’s probably no reason to mention her piercings were part of the original reasons for the role restructure–just talk about what’s relevant now” unless there’s a compelling reason otherwise.

        3. Kara*

          There were other reasons that job duties were reassigned, it really was not the piercings specifically

          But it really was the piercings partially. OP, maybe I’m the only one who is reading this into your responses, but to me you’re coming across as very defensive and excuse making about the whole thing.

          It sucks that you’re being put in a no-win situation, stuck between your boss and being honest and fair with this employee. It really does. But factually, based on what you’ve said, the job description was modified AFTER you’d met with/seen the employee, it was convenient that another employee wanted to take on more of the client facing role, so the job description was altered to accommodate BOTH situations (piercings included).

          The bottom line is that this employee applied for one job, and was offered another job without full disclosure of why the job changed in the middle of the interviewing process. At no time was the potential employee told that he/she could NOT interface with clients or given any indication that they couldn’t move into that role in the future.

          You can jump and jive around the fact that the job description change wasn’t “specifically” about this person’s piercings, but factually, it was (at least in part).

          IMO, the employee is owed an explanation of how their career path with the company will be limited and why, regardless of what the boss says.

  11. the_scientist*

    Okay, why does the *entire office* know that the real reason this person isn’t getting client facing work is because of the facial piercings? That was never anyone’s business but the people who made that decision! Seriously, if I was this employee, and I found out the the ENTIRE OFFICE knew about this I’d probably be leaving on my own, like Former Diet Coke Addict mentioned. This whole situation is so weird…

    1. OP*

      Because we’re a small office and everyone was involved in the interview process. Nothing nefarious, no one is discussing this now. Just during the interview process.

      For all of us except our boss, the piercings are a non issue entirely.

  12. illini02*

    While I don’t personally think things like tattoos and piercings should be an issue, I get that for some people they are. I have no problem with that. But this seems like you guys really took advantage of her. You liked her enough that she was the clear favorite, but wouldn’t even be courteous enough to be up front that you weren’t going to let her do certain things because of something you knew going in? If she didn’t wear them to the interview then showed up on day 1 with a bunch of piercings, I could get it. But your office really handled this horribly. At this point, being honest is the least you could do.

  13. Nerdling*

    Stop infantile zing your employee by taking away her ability to make her own decisions with all the facts and just tell her. If you’re lucky, you can still salvage a decent working relationship with her.

    Even if she quits, you need to be honest. Why? Because you’ve now shown all your other employees that their employers won’t necessarily be honest with them about things. You’re not just shooting yourselves in the foot with this one employee; you’ve given the entire office a reason not to trust you!

    1. Nerdling*

      Sorry about all the excess posts. My phone was being … special. Alison, if you would like to delete the next two replies, that’s fine by me.

  14. Margaret*

    Why wouldn’t you tell the employee?! Not much to add to what’s already said, but I’d be horrified if I (1) found out the adjustment to the job description was based on something that they could have either asked me to change, or I would have not accepted the job knowing that there wasn’t room to modify it because of this, and (2) everyone else knew what the reason was and I didn’t! And it’s not just you didn’t bother to tell her, you’re actively avoiding letting her in on the secret.

    I don’t have facial piercings, but more than the average ear piercings (relative to my industry), and if I was told that I had to take some out to be included on client meetings, well honestly I’d probably be glad to get out of client meetings. But for the sake of my career I’d probably take out some piercings in order to grow my job. But if I were being held back from it and then later told the reason – I’d quit. I would have no interest in a company willing to operate in such a dysfunctional manner.

    1. OP*

      Our boss asked us not to. During the situation, we had no idea if this person would accept or not (many variables at play) and at the time my loyalty was to my boss.

      Now that this person has been hired and clearly still wants to expand into the client facing work, the tables have turned and I feel like it is now my responsibility to inform the employee even against my boss’s wishes.

      1. neverjaunty*

        In other words,your boss forced you to deceive the employee about the work environment so she wouldn’t go elsewhere?

        I’m sorry you’re stuck in this position, OP, but the problem is not just that your boss is conservative. He’s a bad boss.

  15. Mike C.*

    Look, if your workplace is going to have arbitrary appearance rules, the least you can do is mention them at some point.

    As an aside, I have a really hard time caring about someone else who can’t handle someone with piercings. You might as well be complaining about “lady bosses” or “rock and roll music” or “color television”. It’s not 1965 anymore.

    1. Oldblue*

      Yeah but the thing is, older people in the professional world still goven a lot of rules. Multiple piercings in the ears took a while to be accepted. There was a while there when even pierced ears (just one piercing) was not acceptable. As a person who is into piercings I completely understand that you just can’t always wear them in the office.

      1. My two cents*

        I think Mike’s point is that some organizations incorrectly assume visible piercings or tattoos will cause customers to clutch their proverbial pearls.

        I work in tech as an engineer. I keep my septum ring tucked back while in the office or with customers, but my stretched lobes are always in and my tattoos occasionally peak out from under my clothes and no one cares.

      2. lowercase holly*

        true. i got my tragus pierced (a little flappy part of the ear) and my mom worried that employers would have an issue with it. no, mom, no, really.

    2. the_scientist*

      While I mostly agree, I definitely think there are degrees of piercings, in the way that there are degrees of tattoos. In general, I think most would agree that neck, facial and knuckle tattoos are on a different plane than tattoos on other areas of the body, for example. Similarly, a small nose stud or ring, or even an eyebrow piercing, is different than a septum piercing, and 00 gauges are a bit different than smaller ear piercings. I have a heavily tattooed family member but all of his can be covered with a dress shirt and pants if need be- he happens to be an artist, so it’s usually not an issue but he could, say, attend a wedding or funeral without drawing attention to his ink.

      I actually read an interesting article several years ago now about how in creative industries especially, “old-school” employers who refused to hire people with visible tattoos and piercings were struggling to attract and retain top talent- because as body modifications become more mainstream, more talented, driven and professional individuals are getting them and other agencies are relaxing their opinions of them. In certain industries, it seems like body modifications have reached a critical mass, where employers look super out of touch if they don’t allow them.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

        When I was hiring for a graphic designer my boss didn’t trust my choice, because I hired a very clean cut, non-pierced, non-tattooed designer. My boss was convinced he wasn’t “creative enough” based on his appearance!

        1. Dana*

          One of the artists at my favorite shop doesn’t have any visible tattoos. He did a fantastic job on my boyfriend’s most recent tattoo, but he said it definitely comes up that some clients don’t “trust” him because he isn’t covered in ink.

        2. cat's foot iron claw*

          This impresses me as a bit like the “barber fallacy”: if you walk into a barbershop, you may be inclined to choose the barber with the best haircut. But in truth, you want to choose the barber who cut *his* hair.

          Some years ago I was working with a designer / artist fellow at an outfit in downtown Austin, and occasionally I had to go visit him at his desk, and he was always careful to wear an opaque long-sleeved collared shirt. Which did little to hide the fact that he had elaborate tattoos all over his chest and arms – that stopped at precise points on his neck and wrists (and probably extended to the tips of his toes, although I was never motivated to enquire). I suspected this was a “management requirement”, but – he was an artist at a design business in Austin – why make him cover up? Later it occurred to me that maybe he had some graphic / offensive ink on him – but I never found out for sure.

      2. Cleopatra Jones*

        Yes. Even the military has relaxed it stance (somewhat) on tattoos. They still shouldn’t be visible while in uniform but there was a time that having a lot of tattoos disqualified you from service.

      3. TheLazyB*

        A guy in my old work had quite extensive neck tattoos. He just got a major promotion to senior manager. I was surprised but impressed.

    3. Ducking for cover*

      I agree with you, but I did want to point out that piercings mean different things in different regions of the country.

      In my mid-western suburb, you typically only see facial piercings on white trash people. As in, a woman is rolling up at the Wal-Mart in her wrecked 1998 Chevy Cavalier with three dirty kids, wearing a tank top with her belly hanging out of the bottom, 3″ long roots on her bleached hair, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. . .and a lip and eyebrow pierced.

      I totally get it that in more urban or artsy areas, facial piercings are making a social different statement, but in flyover country, I feel like the punk/counter culture look was hijacked by some people that you probably would not want representing you anywhere.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I know it’s a term that’s unfortunately still in widespread use and thus people don’t always think through what’s behind it, but “white trash” is a horrible phrase.

      2. My two cents*

        I’m from/in the Midwest, grew up in a city of 60k and currently reside in a city of 600k, and I think you’re wildly off-base.

        1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

          Huh. I just moved to the Midwest (from an artsy part of a bigger town in the Bible Belt), and I would be inclined to believe it.
          People here seem to have developed a very effective cultural mechanism (something I have a hard time putting my finger on, as I am from a notoriously poor city, and my current city is notoriously wealthy) for rationalizing the distance between themselves and those they perceive as being beneath them, especially on the socioeconomic scale.

  16. Nerdling*

    You need to fix this and be honest, not just to make it up to an employee who you clearly believe has the ability and drive to do the job, but also to fix the way you guys now look to your entire office. You’ve just shown them that you manage by avoidance rather than leadership, and they’re going to be mentally translating that into questions about how you’ve dealt with them in the past. Was that passing over for a raise due to their performance or was it a cover for some mysterious criteria you/your boss have developed that you haven’t shared with anyone? This decision has the potential to destroy morale and loyalty in the entire organization, regardless of whether you manage to retain this single employee.

    1. OP*

      This is my only direct report at this organization who I manage with honesty about everything except this one annoying little thing that is hanging over from the interview stage. I quite honestly didn’t want to piss off my boss for someone I honestly thought would not accept our job offer for various reasons. So at the time I weighed my options and went with one that screwed me over in the end. Now I’m trying my best to deal with a crappy situation. Because the answer would be “not right now, we have someone else covering it” even if this person didn’t have piercings, I feel like there’s at least a reasonable explanation for why we waited to bring it up. See Louise’s great wording above, which I plan on using.

      As a supervisor but not the “boss” I can really only make sure that how I assess employees, etc. is fair. I can’t control what my boss assigns to people or does not.

      Sadly everyone knows how our boss acts so this behavior is a surprise to no one.

  17. Oldblue*

    I have stretched ears, although they are not stretched to the degree you see a lot of people. They still look “normal.” Regardless I don’t wear these earrings to interviews. But most people tell me they can’t even tell my ears are stretched and they just look like I’m wearing hoop earrings.

    Although I did wear my earrings to my professional internships and no one ever said anything to me about them.

    Anyway my point is, if my boss had a problems with my stretched lobes, I would be more than happy to let them shrink down do something more acceptable. I like having them this size, but it’s not a deal breaker.

    Probably this employee would feel the same way. Although the whole office knowing it was an issue and not clueing me in would really bother me.

    1. notfunny.*

      I also have stretched ears but wear glass plugs and no one knows until I tell them. I don’t know what I would do if my boss told me to let them shrink, but I would be beyond upset if no one let me know. It’s totally unacceptable to withhold the conditions under which someone would be able to succeed at their job.

  18. Oryx*

    This is one of those “that ship has sailed” situations, so I won’t reiterate what has already been said.

    All I can say is that moving forward, tell the employee and be prepared for the employee to leave the job. And be aware that if the employee *does* leave it probably won’t be because their piercings aren’t wanted in client-face tasks, but because of the way your business handled the entire situation from the get-go. Either way, use this as a learning opportunity for future hires.

  19. Lizzy*

    Is this indicative of a larger cultural issue? I get that tattoos, piercings and the like can be a controversial topic in the workplace, but it is pretty egregious to no be transparent with her. And on top of that, the fact that everyone collectively agreed that they didn’t want her to know is what makes this worse. I would hate to work in a place like that. OP, I think you should override your coworkers and just tell her or risk losing a good employee.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      One cultural issue that is very apparent is the gossipy grape vines that seem to be rather productive! The only way for “everyone to know” about what management is thinking is if one or more members of management is running their mouths to others who are doing the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if others in this organization with “non traditional” aspects of their appearance weren’t a bit self conscious about how they appear to management after all of this. How do clients feel about dreadlocks? Afros? Tattoos even if small and by the wrist or ankle? Guy with a ponytail? Woman with a very low haircut?

      1. OP*

        Nope sorry. We’re tiny, everyone was involved in the interview process while this was happening. No one is running their mouths.

        We’re tiny and we all know our boss is insane and puts ridiculous assumptions on people about their appearance. We deal with it because everything else is so good.

        Lizzy: I totally agree that it’s ridiculous but all wanted to respect boss’s wishes and some believed it was not a legal interviewing question. A big reason why some people should not actually be involved in interviewing at our org but that is for another day.

  20. jmkenrick*

    I also want to throw in there that, if you don’t tell this employee (and it’s definitely best she hear it from her management) there’s a decent chance another coworker will eventually let it slip.

  21. AnotherAlison*

    The hush-hush aspect of this is rather ridiculous. This isn’t really much different from saying someone can’t meet with clients because their wrinkled khaki pants and t-shirts are inappropriate. Would the OP’s boss have a problem telling someone to dress up on client visits? Probably not. What’s the difference here?

    FWIW, I too might be embarrassed if my boss said my clothes were holding me back, but I’d appreciate it being said.

  22. CaliCali*

    I also get the feeling that it’s not because of the piercings themselves, but that she’s the TYPE of person to have piercings, which is what the boss is actually objecting to — since piercings can be easily removed or concealed.

  23. Nina*

    OP, I feel for you and this woman. Looks like you’re trying to rectify things here, but your boss is making this considerably worse. The fact that this issue is well known in the office doesn’t help. I’m not sure why you were outvoted though; was a vote even necessary?

    At any rate, this woman needs to know the real reason why she’s not getting this client-facing work so she can determine if this place is a right fit for her. She’s just being led on at this point, and she could end up quitting whether you tell her or not.

    Best of luck to you.

    1. OP*

      It wasn’t really a vote per se, just that everyone else felt it was best not to bring it up because it wasn’t the only reason we removed it from the job description. We reorganized things too and at the time of the interview this aspect of the original job was being taken over by someone else.

  24. JB (not in Houston)*

    Does anyone have any suggestions for a way to let the employee know without saying it explicitly? I agree that the employee should be told clearly and directly. And it doesn’t seem like the OP necessarily feels like her job will be negatively affected by going against the boss’s order not to tell the employee. But if someone else faced a similar situation but didn’t feel they could risk disobeying a direct order, is there some other wording that could be used instead? Like, I don’t, asking the employee if they had come to any conclusions about why they weren’t being giving any client-facing duties? Or would it be better to keep saying nothing?

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      All I could think of was to tell the employee that if they were interested in moving into that kind of role, to tell the boss directly that they were interested and ask the boss directly if there was anything they should be doing or doing differently to be able to take on that kind of role in the future, or something like.

  25. A good old canuck*

    I didn’t read all of the comments, so I apologize if I am repeating what others have already said.

    OP, you say that on a day-to-day basis the piercing are fine and it only becomes an issue for client meetings. I agree with others that you need to have the conversation with your employee. The employee may be totally okay with removing their piercing for those specific times. And please explain that the concern is specifically when dealing with clients. If I were the employee and was told my piercing were an issue (and not told the specifics) then I would be wondering why I was hired in the first place (particularly because the employee attended the interview with the piercings (this actually happened to me only in a different context, – I was told that my specific education was what the company was looking for, and then later, after I accepted the job and moved across provinces, I was told that that same education was problematic and I was left wondering why they hired me in the first place). From your letter it is clear that the OP is very much interested in the client facing opportunities that your work offers and it may have been the reason the employee applied for the job in the first place. Also, I would be mortified to learn that the entire office (even if it’s a small office) was aware that this is what was holding me back. It would seriously damage my trust in the company. Even if it wasn’t discussed in a “gossipy” manner, the employee doesn’t necessarily know that.

    I wish you the best of luck in having this conversation with the employee. It sounds like it is the best thing for both of you.

  26. nep*

    I’ve not read all the comments yet, just the original letter and Alison’s response. Wow — talk about a no-brainer. I cannot imagine why the prospective employer would not be direct with the person about this right from the get-go. That’s beyond me.
    It’s realllllly late — but tell her.

    1. cat's foot iron claw*

      Yeah. You can tell me I’m wrong, but this reminds me of when I started work, decades ago and fresh out of grad school, with the (now non-existent) Federal Systems Division of [company]. Out of about 3,000 site employees, I was the only male with long hair. They didn’t re-write my job description or anything, but yeah, it was obvious that many people had problems with my looks. But not my boss, and as long as I performed really well, it wasn’t a problem.

      Of course, nothing lasts forever, and there was a re-org and I was eventually transferred to work for a fellow who *did* have issues with my hair. He wasn’t shy about telling me that it would cause me “problems” but (I found out much later) apparently when he asked his superiors about it, he was told that he neither order me to cut my hair nor could he fire me over it.

      Anyhow, my point WRT the situation at hand is that this person

      A) is almost certainly aware that her piercings are “controversial”,
      B) is unlikely to change her appearance despite the threat of career “problems”,
      C) is probably looking for an opportunity to show off that she can work with customers just fine, even with the piercings, and
      D) considers her piercings such an integral part of her self-image (and, perhaps, reputation) that it’s not just “no, I won’t remove them” – it’s “hell no! I won’t remove them!”

      1. Kelly L.*

        I think D is an enormous and unfair stretch. We have no idea whether this employee would remove them for specific events–because she hasn’t been offered the choice.

        1. OP*

          I’m actually pretty sure D is accurate here based on other conversations/situations/knowledge. In our industry, which can be conservative, it’s a strong statement to wear facial piercings to a job interview.

          We are talking about much more than a nose ring too.

          But even if that’s the case, the employee should have been given the knowledge regarding ever doing client facing work.

  27. DarcyPennell*

    I recently took a job that was much more corporate than I’d ever had before. I have one small facial piercing. After they made me an offer, I found out my new manager was uncomfortable with the piercing. I think it was more “will the kind of person who has a piercing be happy in this environment.”

    I changed the jewelry for something even more subdued — my fear was that every time my new boss looked at my face she would be reminded of her reservations about me. And I just tried in general to kick butt and overcome those reservations. It’s been almost a year and I think I’ve succeeded (I hope so!)

    At the time it rankled, I must admit. but having read this post I’m very glad they told me. It would have been swful if I hadn’t even known about it. OP, it sounds like you know what’s right and you’re going to do it. Good for you.

  28. AnonyGoose*

    I would assume that, if someone made facial piercings evident during the interview and nothing was explicitly said about them during the interview/offer stage, that meant the employer was fine with the facial piercings. In fact, this person may have specifically chosen to make her piercing evidents to weed out employers just like OP’s.

    I have a tattoo. If I care about finding a company that won’t have issues with it being displayed, I make sure it’s displayed during the interview. If I’m fine with covering it up, I’ll cover it up during the interview and consider it as a nice perk if it turns out that covering it isn’t necessary for the job. I would not expect that a company who saw it and had issues with it would secretly hold it against me and change my job duties without telling, though. That’s just strange and, as Alison said, unfair.

  29. Miss M*

    OP: Would it be okay for this employee to approach your boss for an answer? Or encourage her to talk to him directly? That way it takes the pressure off of you and the boss has to respond to her somehow.

  30. WhiskeyTango*

    Several years ago, my sister asked me to help her find a job in a law firm. She was in her early 20s and I’m 10 years older. I said, “Here’s the thing: Law firms are conservative.” She said, “Yeah, I’d have to take out my piercings.” I said, “And cover up the tattoos… and probably change your hair color too.” (At the time, it was a black and white zebra pattern.) She muttered something about it being discriminatory and I had to tell her she wasn’t in a protected class, but it would probably be worth it if she was interested in making more than minimum wage. She decided she didn’t want to alter her appearance, even for 40 hours a week. At the end of the day, she probably wouldn’t be a good cultural fit anyway.

    Fast forward seven or eight years and her manager at work just gave her the “Your-Appearance-Is-Holding-Back-Your-Career” Talk. She’s taken out her facial piercings and is having laser tattoo removal. (Her tattoos went all the way up her neck to her chin.) I think the big difference, besides maturity, is that her boss showed a lot of confidence in her ability to do the job and had a very non-judgemental conversation with her. I think its all in the approach and how receptive the employee is to that sort of talk. If you come at it from an “I want to see you succeed” angle, it will make a huge and positive impact.



    I have to inquire: are these facial piercings just for style or are they connected to any religion/spirituality? If the latter, I would think long and hard before you tell this person it’s the piercings that’s holding or back (or actually don’t give her client time because of it) because it could be religious discrimination. An analogy would be “I don’t want to give Jane face time with clients because she wears a hijab.”

  32. teclagwig*

    Looks like this didn’t post this morning. Sorry if it duplicates something I haven’t read in the meantime….

    OP, what I am not seeing is acknowledgement that the employee applied for a job with a customer service component. Yes, she accepted the changed job description, but from what you are saying (small business, need for more people to handle CS as customer load grows), it sounds reasonable that Employee might have been left with the impression that she would eventually have a chance to do CS. That is what makes this feel like a bait and switch, even if the reorg was explained to her. This may be pessimistic of me, but given what you have told us about Boss and the WTF-ness of insisting on silence, I speculate that the boss knows that Employee was misled in that interview you didn’t attend, and THAT is why she won’t let you tell her yourself.

  33. Rebecca*

    I know I’m late to the party here, but I’m a senior manager for a large specialty retailer, and I can tell you that I have seen many an applicant rejected based on exactly “this”; tattoos, piercings, pink hair, etc…. I have not been complicit in those decisions, choosing to base my hiring decisions on a person’s experience, personality, and basically the traits that interview guides have been assigned to address. I can also say with absolute certainty (in my experience only!) that the older the hiring manager, the less likely they are to even consider an applicant with piercings or tattoos. It’s very frustrating, and I have been able to successfully integrate some of those candidates into our system with fantastic results. I just wonder if the “older” managers get the hypocrisy here; they have said time and time again how difficult it is for them to interview for other positions because of their age (!!), and yet they have no issue with turning down a possibly phenomenal candidate because of a couple of tattoos. It’s ridiculous.

    1. Evey Hammond*

      Out of curiosity, have you had any success convincing older hiring managers to give people with body mods/weird hair/etc a chance? Or do they generally just refuse to consider the candidates at all?

  34. Evey Hammond*

    I have facial piercings, visible tattoos, and stretched ears, and I generally make a point of not taking them out when I go to interviews for this exact reason. If the employer has a problem with them, they’ll say something then. (Historically the only jobs I’ve had issues with there are food service jobs, which at least makes some sense- no one wants to find an errant nose ring in their lunch.) Definitely tell your coworker that her piercings are an issue for the boss. Otherwise she will likely think that she’s doing something wrong, since she showed up with the piercings in and wasn’t told that they would be a problem.

  35. Kealsey*

    You can get clear nose rings were you can’t see them. I work in an office and I was thinking of getting mine done. I visit clients and I’m gonna wear my clear stud into the office when I work.

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