Tattoos in the Workplace

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Hannah Williamson

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05 Mar 2021

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Fashion and tastes are cyclical. With styles and ideas coming in and out of fashion.

In the early 1900s, there was a craze in high society for tattoos. Famously, Winston Churchill’s mother had a snake tattooed around her wrist. Within about five years it had gone completely out of fashion again in the high classes.

Because of this cyclical nature, many employers and business owners are against tattoos. And with tattoos coming back into fashion, these worlds are colliding.

You will encounter more candidates with tattoos, especially with the younger generation. Can you afford to refuse these candidates? And are you allowed to?

Are tattoos acceptable in the workplace?

Appearance matters. Therefore, some employers impose dress codes or introduce uniforms. There are often negative stereotypes around people with tattoos, and it’s important to take an objective view.

You need to weigh up the positive impact a relaxed dress code can have on your employees. And whether your customers share your negative views.

Traditionally, tattoos have been perceived as unprofessional and not suitable in a work environment. So, employers have restricted them in dress codes, especially customer-facing roles

This is changing, however. ACAS told employers that rejecting candidates simply because they have tattoos was wrong. Companies could miss out on the best talent by allowing outdated negative attitudes to impede their recruitment decisions.

Discrimination against tattoos in the workplace

There are currently no employment laws about specifically tattoos in the workplace.

So if an employer believes the candidate has inappropriate tattoos for the workplace, they can choose to reject that candidate for that reason.

It’s understandable. If an employee will have to interact with clients or customers and has offensive tattoos in the workplace, it could damage business sales and reputation.

Not only does it stand up in recruitment, but also in dismissals. If there is a blanket ban on tattoos in policy and the employer followed the proper process, it would be fair to dismiss an employee for getting a tattoo..

Any legislation would link tattoos in the workplace law against discrimination in the 2010 Equality Act. While it is not a protected characteristic, if they link it to one such as religion, any decision in the hiring or dismissal process would be unlawful.

Tattoos in dress code policy

To cover yourself, the rules about tattoos should be clear in the dress code policy. You shouldn’t turn down a potential employee nor dismiss one if there is no mention of it in the dress code policy.

You can if you have no mention, but it could make the company more liable to claims, especially if they let other staff in with tattoos and there is a general lack of consistency

If there is no dress code in place, then you should introduce one.

In the policy, you can include information about what employees can and cannot wear and their overall appearance at work. This can include things like finger or hand tattoos in the workplace.

Ensure there is a written policy that you require employees to read and sign. You should then try to enforce that policy consistently. That way, employees can’t claim discriminatory action. You should base the policies on the judgement that is in the best interest of the business.

Are tattoos appropriate in the workplace?

Attitudes towards tattoos and piercings in the workplace have changed. It’s quite common to see a range of professionals with body art.

The situation will change from industry to industry, but there is an advantage to allowing visible tattoos in the workplace if your business allows.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of tattoos in the workplace.

Arguments for tattoos in the workplace

  • A tattoo could make your employee feel more confident as it’s part of their identity.
  • If you value the individuality and character of your employees, then you’re more likely to have a workforce that values your company and culture.
  • This could then potentially lead to strong employee retention.
  • Consider your industry and the positive impact allowing tattoos could have. Creative arts, music, acting, design fields are some professions positively affected.
  • Tattoo discrimination could see you missing out on new talent for your business.
  • It’s becoming more common for candidates to decline a job offer if they feel the restrictions around tattoos and piercings are too strict.

Arguments against tattoos in the workplace

  • Some tattoos are visible even with work attire, such as face tattoos. It can look unprofessional towards customers or clients.
  • Tattoos can be provocative and can cause customers and clients to complain.
  • Health and safety in the food industry view it as an open wound in the first 2-6 months which can cause complications to existing employees getting one.
  • Some tattoos can cause offence, with violence, foul language or nudity. This means you can at least place a ban on offensive tattoos.

Expert support on tattoos at work with Croner

How employees look and dress at work every day can be important. While it may be in your best interests to allow tattoos or body piercings in your workplace, it is equally against them to have employees with hand or finger tattoos in the workplace.

We will draft you a complaint sickness absence policy or review your current one. If you need someone to conduct meetings with the employee on your behalf, we will handle that for you.

If you have any questions about tattoos in the workplace, our experts provide free help, support, and advice tailored to your requirements. Call us for free today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Hannah Williamson is a CIPD Qualified HR professional with over 10 years’ experience in generalist HR management working within the Manufacturing Industry.

Working for a Global manufacturer provided Hannah with the opportunity to work in America and across Europe supporting HR functions and the wider business.

Hannah is Croner’s Advice Manager, taking responsibility for overseeing the provision of advice to all Croner clients, bringing together our Corporate, Simplify and Association service provisions.

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