Ethical Dilemma Targeting Tattoos Under Law

Read the case study, Targeting Tattoos in Ch. 2 of Justice administration.

You are a police chief in a medium-sized city and have just received information from a captain that one of your officers, Newton, has recently had a swastika tattooed on one arm and a naked woman on the other. The captain says that both tattoos are visible in the summer uniform and, as news is spreading about these adornments, an increasing number of officers are becoming offended and some are even saying that they will refuse to respond to any calls for service with Newton. Based on this information, you believe that the tattoo may violate the city’s policy against workplace harassment and quickly call Newton into your office. He admits having the tattoos but rather sarcastically states that he has a “liberty” interest under the Fourteenth Amendment and a right to “expression” under the First Amendment. He adds that for you to try to control such activity would constitute a “hostile” work environment. You know that there is currently no policy that prohibits the displaying of any tattoos, let alone any that are offensive.

Write an 825 word paper that answers the following questions:

  • Do you consider Newton a problem employee or would you consider this a problem situation? Explain your response.
  • What type of disciplinary actions, if any, would you take against Newton?
  • What potential issues or ramifications should you be aware of when considering disciplinary actions?
  • Can you take any action in response to the complaint?
  • Do you have the right to reasonably regulate the appearance of employees and require a professional appearance?
  • If you implement a policy against such tattoos, does the rule impermissibly discriminate against Newton?
  • Can you use to advantage any U.S. Supreme Court decisions in response to this matter?

Sample Answer – Targeting Tattoos Under Law

Newton has just tattooed his arms with an image of a naked woman and a swastika. The tattoos on Newton’s arms are visible to other officers, especially in the summer uniform. Personally, I think Newton is a problem employee and the issue at hand is a problem situation. The two tattoos on Newton’s hands bring tension among other employees because they are discriminatory in nature. For instance, a swastika is sacred symbol among the Hindus and Buddhists and by having such a tattoo on his arm, he attempts to scare away other employees from other religions such as Christianity. This is because officers from other religions might feel that Newton is not ready to associate with them in any way. In addition, women can find the tattoo of a naked woman on Newton’s arm to be very offensive. It is very wrong for a police officer to have such tattoos on his body especially if he or she works in an environment which consists of people from diverse backgrounds. Making a step of having the tattoos on his body makes Newton a problem employee. In order to avoid friction between him and other officers, Newton should remove the two tattoos from his body.

The presence of the two tattoos on Newton’s body is a problem situation because of the absence of clear policies that can be used as the basis of disciplinary action, and due to the fact that some officers are threatening to ignore his orders (NSW Industrial Relations, 2013). Currently, there is no policy that prevents officers from displaying tattoos on their body. In addition, there are no rules that specify the types of tattoos that officers are expected to display on their bodies. At the same time, Newton claims that his right to liberty and freedom of expression are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution respectively. It therefore becomes very difficult to handle Newton’s case considering the fact that the swastika tattoo interferes with the religious beliefs of some employees and the tattoo of a naked woman is offensive to the female officers.

It is often extremely difficult to take a disciplinary action against police officers, but certain circumstances call for immediate disciplinary action against them. In addition, it become easier to take a disciplinary action against a police officer when there are laid down rules that defines recommended behavior. In this particular case, it will be difficult to take a disciplinary action against Newton because there are no clear policies that prohibit police officers from displaying tattoos on their bodies. Moreover, there are no rules that specify the types of tattoos that officers are allowed to display. Therefore, instead of taking a disciplinary action against Newton, it will be easier to make him understand that the tattoos on his body are causing some friction among his colleagues, especially on female officers. The best thing to do in this case is to explain to Newton the degree of impact that his tattoos has on his fellow officers. Similarly, it is important to make other officers understand the consequences of abiding by Newton’s orders. The officers need to be warned that they must fulfill their duties all the time no matter what they feel about the tattoos on Newton’s arms.

Prior to making a decision on whether to take a disciplinary action against Newton, the police chief must be aware of the potential ramifications that might bring about tension suppose he decided to execute a disciplinary action. The first potential issue is the absence of policies that govern displaying of tattoos by police officers. Newton will obviously claim that he should not face any disciplinary action because there are no policies that prohibit him from displaying tattoos on his body (NSW Industrial Relations, 2013). The second ramification that police chief must be aware of is previous discrimination allegations that other employees had filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Newton argues that his right to liberty and freedom of expression are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution respectively. This means that taking a disciplinary action against him will look as if he is being discriminated against (Legal Information Institute, 1992).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the United States has outlined various legislations that prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of gender, race, sex, or religion. This rule is defined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination by their employers, and prohibits employers from revenging against their employees who exercise their rights freely. By being conversant with previous discrimination allegations that other employees had filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the police chief will understand better how to deal with Newton’s case without facing any legal liability (Legal Information Institute, 1992). It is true that Newton has the right to liberty and freedom of expression, but he needs to remove the tattoos on his body due to the negative impacts that they have on his fellow officers.

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