The edicts have been issued to maintain a good image, say the communities, and they have been applied to teachers, janitors, firefighters and others.
"We didn't want to offend some people in the community," says Capt. Armando Hogan, spokesman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, where employees were ordered last spring to cover all tattoos while on duty. "I have been on drills and on scene where someone has said, 'I wouldn't want that person working on me,' and we've had to educate the individual who made the comment."
Among the cities:
• Bountiful, Utah, decided in August that new employees must not show any tattoos.
• The Pasco County School Board in Florida has ordered employees to hide "offensive" tattoos.
• In Missouri, the Joplin School Board will vote on a no-visible-tattoo policy this year.
The orders to cover up have been growing as tattoos become more popular, especially tattoos on the face, neck, hands and fingers. Some workers feel the policy is unfair.
"We don't allow discrimination based on skin color, yet we came up with a policy that discriminated against people with color on their skin," says Steve Tufts, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City.
Joplin Schools Superintendent C.J. Huff says students are getting teaching degrees, getting tattoos, and then applying for jobs. "We're saying before you get a tattoo, you have to think about how big it is and where it's located before you think about getting a job in our school district," he says.
The rule in Bountiful was passed after applicants with hard-to-conceal tattoos showed up for interviews for jobs in the police, streets and sanitation departments. City Manager Tom Hardy says city leaders had to decide: "Either we're going to do nothing about it, or we're going to do something about it."
In each community, officials cite the exploding popularity of tattoos.
Bob Baxter, editor in chief of Skin & Ink magazine, agrees with the restrictive policies. Baxter says neck and face tattoos used to appear only on heavily tattooed people who ran out of space.
"What's happening (now) is that a lot of young people figure that the best way to show that 'I'm in the tattoo community' is to get tattoos in very conspicuous places," Baxter says. "I don't think it's a good idea. It's hard to get work."