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Hernando delays tattoo policy for employees

Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2014 at 12:16 PM

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BROOKSVILLE - A proposed new county policy on tattoos and jewelry didn't make the grade with county commissioners Tuesday who called it too vague and subject to legal problems.

They asked the Human Resources Department to draw up new language that is more specific and removes the provision that makes supervisors the sole authority in which tattoos are inappropriate or offensive.

What one supervisor deems inoffensive, another may consider anything but, commissioners decided.

County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said the revised policy presented by Human Resources on Tuesday was too subjective and, if a new policy is needed, it must be uniform across the board to avoid conflicts.

"We can't leave it up to (supervisors)," Nicholson said. "It needs to be the same for everybody."

Nicholson said he's not even sure a policy change is needed.

The proposed dress code policy said that tattoos "that display gang signs, nudity or other sexually offensive content, inappropriate symbols that advocates (sic) prejudice or discrimination, or that promote violence or drug usage must be concealed at all times while at work."

It also said that jewelry "shall be conservative and not offensive or detract from a professional image."

Human Resources Director Cheryl Marsden said other counties and municipalities have such policies in place and there is no intent to stifle public expression.

"We want to project a professional image to the public," Marsden said.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said society has changed and people today walk around in public tattooed from head to foot. At the same time, he acknowledged there is a good taste line that must not be crossed.

"We are public servants," Dukes said. "We're out selling Hernando County every day."

But any revised policy must remove the element of subjectivity and has to be uniform for all employees, he said.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said it would be hard to determine whether a piece of jewelry or tattoo crosses the line.

For example, some with strong religious beliefs may object to someone sporting a four-leaf clover image, she said. Hernando County, she said, opens itself up to liability if it represses freedom of expression.

Commissioner Dave Russell told his colleagues he understands their concerns. But he recited an instance where an employee at the pool company he owns showed up for work with a tattoo with foreign writing that 90 percent of the public wouldn't understand.

But he said the other 10 percent of his customers would have recognized it and been offended.

"There has to be some discretion without violating freedom of speech," Russell said.

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