Arbitrator Overturns Chicago PD’s Ban On Tattoos

Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police represents police officers in the Chicago Police Department. Prior to 2015, the Department had no policy banning the display of visible tattoos. Neither Lodge 7 nor the City had ever raised the topic of tattoo regulation during bargaining.

On June 8, 2015, the Department issued a revised “Personal Appearance, Uniform/Citizen’s Dress and Equipment” Policy. Among other things, the new Policy regulates hairstyles, fingernail color and/or ornamentation, the number of buttons that may be unbuttoned on a sweater, and the color of socks, eyeglasses and wristwatches. With respect to tattoos, the Policy provided:

E. For civilian and sworn members, tattoos and body brandings will not be visible while on duty or representing the Department, whether in uniform, conservative business attire, or casual dress.

1. Members assigned to uniform duty with tattoos or body brandings on their arms or legs that are visible when wearing the short-sleeve shirt or shorts will wear the prescribed long-sleeve shirt and long pants with appropriate neck wear, regardless of season.

2. Members assigned to conservative business attire or casual dress with tattoos or body brandings on their arms or legs will wear appropriate attire to cover visible tattoos.

3. Members with tattoos or body brandings on their hands, face, neck, or other area not covered by a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, or appropriate attire will cover them with a matching skin tone adhesive bandage or tattoo cover up tape.

4. Members assigned to covert dress will adhere to standards approved by their bureau chief consistent with this directive.

Note: Short-sleeve shirts worn with tattoo cover-up arm sleeves are prohibited.

Lodge 7 filed both a grievance and an unfair labor practice complaint challenging the Policy. The heart of both claims was that the Policy impacted mandatorily negotiable topics and could not be unilaterally implemented by the Department. The Illinois Labor Relations Board held the ULP proceedings in abeyance, and the matter proceeded first to arbitration.

An arbitrator sided with Lodge 7 and ruled that the Department could not unilaterally implement the policy. The Arbitrator found several reasons why the Policy impacted mandatorily negotiable issues:

“First, officers have been hired with tattoos, and have acquired additional tattoos during their employment, with absolutely no negative consequences. To suddenly, without apparent reason, turn acceptable behavior into the workplace equivalent of criminal conduct is, on its face, a major change in the employees’ working conditions.

“Further, a tattoo is essentially forever. Removal, even if the officers were willing to take that step, is an expensive and painful process. It is obvious that this is far different than regulating the length of hair, fingernails, or sideburns, or requiring employees to remove jewelry from piercings. An individual who has a tattoo has a tattoo, and there is nothing he can do to avoid falling within the scope of this policy.

“Further, the evidence demonstrates what common sense indicates, that compliance with the new policy carries significant adverse consequences to the employees. Whereas officers with visible tattoos on their arms had been allowed to wear open-collared short-sleeved shirts in the summer, they must now wear their regular long-sleeved shirts, and ties. Anyone who has spent a summer in Chicago can take notice of the fact that wearing a long-sleeved shirt with a tie, rather than an open-necked short-sleeved shirt, would cause a huge comfort difference if one spent even a few minutes outside on a hot day, let alone the hours so spent by many officers. The policy even subjects officers with no tattoos at all to the heavy clothing requirement if they have the misfortune to be part of a detail or unit, such as mounted or motorcycle, where the officers must present a uniform appearance, and one of their colleagues has a visible tattoo.

“I reach the same conclusion with respect to the available methods for covering tattoos on the hands, neck, and ears. Compliance requires wearing bandages or special tape on a daily basis which, as the uncontroverted testimony establishes, can be hot, itchy, and uncomfortable, not to mention expensive and difficult to obtain, and suggestive that the officer is injured. This is not a minimal change to grooming standards.”

The Arbitrator also rejected the Department’s argument that Local 7 had waived its right to bargain over the issue. The Arbitrator concluded instead that the Department “presented the policy as a fait accompli. It was obvious it did not intend to bargain.”

The Arbitrator concluded her opinion by holding that “the appropriate remedy is for the Employer to rescind the policy, expunge such discipline as may be related solely to the new policy, and make whole those employees who can demonstrate that they have expended funds in their attempts to comply with the policy.”

Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge No. 7, No. 129-15-007 (Zimmerman, 2016).