New Poll: Public Divided on Regulating Appearance -- From Weight to Tattoos -- in the Workplace

ATLANTA, March 22 – Most would agree that nose rings and obesity are more common than ever in the U.S. workplace, but a new survey says the nation is divided over whether employers should have the right to ban body piercings or compel large-framed employees to drop weight.
In the survey released today, 39 percent said employers should have the right to deny employment to someone based on appearance, including weight, clothing, piercings, body art or hairstyle.

The survey comes as employer-employee disputes over appearance increasingly spill into the courts and government enforcement agencies. A rash of recent cases includes an Atlantic City casino sued over a requirement that cocktail waitresses undergo weekly weigh-ins and a national superstore challenged for its prohibition on “visible facial or tongue jewelry (earrings excepted).”

“Appearance discrimination is an issue employers have struggled with for decades, yet few companies have put policies in place to guide managers on how to govern their employees’ appearance,” said Henry M. Perlowski, co-chair of the Employment Law Team at Atlanta law firm Arnall Golden Gregory LLP. “It would behoove any company to address its stance on employee appearance with formal policies and open communication, as the litigation route can be costly and disruptive.”

The survey is part of an ongoing series of “America at Work” polls commissioned by the Employment Law Alliance, a global network of law firms with labor and employment practices. Independent research firm Reed, Haldy McIntosh & Associates of Media, Pa., conducted the poll of 1,000 Americans over a recent weekend. It has a confidence interval of +/- 3.1 percent. The sample was representative of the U.S. adult population.

The survey comes on the heels of a report published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine saying obesity is on the rise. The report predicted obesity would soon shorten the average lifespan of 77.6 years by two to five years.

The ELA survey showed that of the 16 percent who claim they’ve been the victim of appearance-based discrimination, 38 percent said the discrimination was based on their overall appearance. About 31 percent said their weight was the reason for discrimination, while 14 percent said it was a reaction to their hairstyle. Thirty-three percent reported it was for some other reason.

“If recent reports on increasing obesity are accurate, discrimination and medical leave-related disputes can only be expected to rise,” Perlowski said.

A few findings from the survey:

  • 33 percent said that in their own workplace, workers who are physically attractive are more likely to be hired and promoted.

  • 33 percent said workers who are unattractive, overweight or generally look or dress unconventionally should be given special government legal protection such as that given persons with disabilities.

  • Of the 39 percent who said employers should have the right to deny employment based on looks, men outnumbered women 46 percent to 32 percent, and whites outnumbered non-whites 41 percent to 24 percent.

Arnall Golden Gregory LLP is an Atlanta law firm that serves the business transaction needs of growing public and private companies. Through mergers and acquisitions, capital markets financing, strategic alliances, joint ventures, litigation and other business-related guidance, the firm helps clients in a broad range of industries turn legal challenges into business opportunities. For more information, visit or call 404.873.8500.

AGG is the exclusive Georgia representative for the Employment Law Alliance, the world’s largest network of independent law firms distinguished for their practice in employment and labor law. There are member firms in every jurisdiction in the United States and major commercial centers throughout the world. For more information, visit

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