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The body may be a canvas for some West Valley City employees, but their artwork has to stay hidden during work hours.

Under a recent update to the city's policy on body art, new hires cannot display any tattoos while at work. Current employees can show some existing tattoos but must cover any new ones.

Assistant City Manager Paul Isaac said no particular incident led to the update, which is aimed at promoting a professional image for employees. He said there have been some comments from citizens about tattoos on a police officer who gave them a ticket or a paramedic who placed them in an ambulance.

"We want to make sure we don't distract from the uniform," Isaac said.

The updated policy says employees hired on or after Sept. 1 cannot display any tattoos, brands, scarification, body art or decals on their body during work hours or while in city uniform.

Employees hired before that date can display certain tattoos that they already have between the wrists and the fingertips; between the toes and the ankles; and from the neck to the top of the head. These workers had until Sept. 10 to make their department head aware of their existing tattoos; all new ones have to be covered.

Exceptions to the policy can be made to prevent discrimination based on religion or national origin.

West Valley City looked at policies from the military and other cities before City Manager Wayne Pyle implemented the changes through an executive order.

Bountiful adopted a similar policy two years ago, intending to head off potential problems, said City Manager Tom Hardy.

"We didn't want to get into a situation where we got lots of complaints from the public,"Hardy said.

No one has complained about the policy, and Bountiful still gets plenty of job applicants, he said.

Sgt. Mike Powell, of the West Valley Police Department, also said he has heard no complaints. Only a handful of officers have been affected, he said.

Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard said government and private employers can ban visible tattoos. "The only exception would be if a tattoo or other body art were somehow considered religious expression," he said.

Isaac said there could be future updates as body art becomes more popular. "I imagine in the next five to 10 years, we may not find anyone who doesn't have a tattoo," he said. —

Always banned

Regardless of their hire date, West Valley City employees are now banned from displaying:

Tattoos or other body art that depict gang affiliation; sexual activity; are obscene; or advocate sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination.

Jewelry or other objects attached to or through the ear, nose, tongue or any exposed body part. The exception is one or two "typical earrings" per ear, unless the ear has been stretched.