Tattoos at the workplace or at play


Would you employ her?
Or him?

Visible tattoos are often thought of as a workplace taboo. But should SMEs abide by this to be seen as respectable, or will it lead to them missing out on
I cannot help noticing that nowadays more and more people have tattoos, as they become less of a taboo, particularly among young people. Most often you cannot tell who is tattooed and who isn’t, but it’s becoming common to see tattoos in very visible locations such as the forearms, hands or even neck and face.
So all you SME owners-what does this mean for you? When you come to hire someone, you need to be ready for what to do if they are tattooed. Should it affect your decision about hiring them? If so, why?
Part of it depends on your business. There is certainly an argument to count tattoos against someone when hiring if the role is highly customer-facing. Research shows that consumers prefer interacting with non-tattooed staff. They tend to distrust our inked friends. However, the other side of that coin is that someone with great enthusiasm and personal skills will be a good hire, tattooed or not, so it shouldn’t be
the sole factor in your decision.

The main argument for a tattoo-inclusive workplace is that you don’t want to end up missing out on talent. Aisha Oakley, head of HR outsourcing at the Bradfield Group, is reported to have said that this kind of discrimination “means the pool of talent is automatically shrunk for those employers who have negative perceptions of those with tattoos”.

The last thing you don’t want to do is reject the perfect job candidate – someone who could have a major positive impact on your SME – just because they are tattooed. That doesn’t mean begrudgingly hiring someone if you’re not prepared to treat them equally, either.  If you’re going to have a tattooed workforce, you need to be committed to being inclusive.
Kirsten Davidson, head of employer brand at Glassdoor, said: “Labelling something taboo is dangerous for workplace transparency. When we look at companies rated highly for culture & values on Glassdoor, we often see employee feedback about feeling comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, or feeling free to be authentic.”
To this end, many businesses are getting rid of any kind of dress code whatsoever. If a job doesn’t involve meeting clients, is there really any need for it? There is an argument that creativity and freedom of self-expression should be valued much more than how employees look.

ACAS the conciliation service comments that employers who reject candidates simply because they have tattoos is wrong. However UK law does not provide a standalone protection under discrimination legislation for having a tattoo. Tattoos and body piercings are expressly carved out of the definition of disability on the basis that they are not “severe  disfigurements that are treated as having a substantially adverse affect on the ability of the person concerned to carry out normal day-to-day activity.” Despite this appearing to give free reign to employers- please proceed with caution.

A 34-year-old from Birmingham, who changed his name by deed poll to King of Ink Land King Body Art The Extreme Ink-Ite (previously Mathew Whelan),  and describes himself as the U.K.’s most tattooed man, has lead a campaign to protect the employment status of people with body modifications.

There is however the possibility to claim discrimination against the employer  if it raises age or religion.

A recent YouGov poll suggested a fifth of UK adults have tattoos, with those under 40 significantly more likely to have them. In contrast, less than 5% of over 65’s have a tattoo.  Therefore, assuming a blanket policy forbidding tattoos in the workplace, can unwittingly highlight generational prejudice, which could raise complaints about age discrimination.

In the case of religious discrimination, there could be grounds for a claim if the employee sports piercings, a hairstyle or tattoo as a manifestation of their belief system. For example an employee could have a tattoo of a cross as a Christian, a beard on a Sikh, or a Hindu employee could choose to pierce their nose.

Embracing your workforce whether they’re tattooed or not could lead to a more relaxed atmosphere and employees who feel fulfilled, therefore allowing their productivity levels to get higher as a result.
So my advice is before you do go ahead with hiring new employees, think carefully about your tattoo policy and how that might affect the future workforce.

Interestingly it is not just your SME’s facing such decisions, it is also being addressed at the traditional Royal Ascot, which has raised eyebrows from those

Bethanie Mattek-Sands .
Image by Andy Hooper

And now we see tattoos causing a stir with the more conservative Wimbledon members. We very recently saw the numerous inkings on Wimbledon players or
better known as the tat attack. Wimbledon is now having to review its tattoo policy. Wimbledon has always had an all white dress code policy and prided itself on being free of any branding, yet they have not addressed in its policy tattoos and now there are some interesting discussions regarding tattoos on our Wimbledon competitors.

LONDON, ENGLAND – Monday, June 25, 2012: Karolina Pliskova (CZE) with tattoos on her left arm and leg during the Ladies’ Singles 1st Round on the opening day of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)






Bethanie Mattel-Sands in action. A Getty image.

There has also been seen a nose ring on the court. Oh the horror!  There are clear disgruntled sound bites at
Wimbledon. The All England Club – which hosts the Wimbledon championships, has issued a dress code for the first time this year due to concerns that members sartorial standards are slipping. But don’t hold your breath, it is likely that that there
will be further reviews to address the question of tattoos as we enter into an increasingly creative ink body world.



12 thoughts on “Tattoos at the workplace or at play

  1. Interesting. Very topical this issue of perception.
    Almost missed out on one of the best assistants I ever had because she came to the interview with a chain around her foot which I have a prejudice against because of slavery. It was my brother who said to give her a chance since all other criteria were good. So I can relate.

    1. Thank you Megan for sharing your real experience. Interestingly, the ankle chain provoked memories of slavery for you, yet there are some interesting and perhaps shocking symbolism of wearing an ankle chain, from status to a ‘hotwife’ and the Queen of Spades – where the letter Q and Spade symbol on an ankle chain (usually accompanied with a tattoo of the playing card symbol with letter Q inside) means a hotwife has a sexual preference for black men.

  2. Antoinette, great points! I also think biz owners need to consider the work dynamics. Definitely for individual contributors, the talent/skills and conditions to optimize those should reign supreme. It seems that people/companies always have biases. Maybe tattoes probide decision-makers with an easy out … to exclude the “undesirables”?

    1. Thanks Althea. Yes the problem is that employers are finding it difficult to see beyond the ‘inkings’. People believe that the candidate is hiding behind something. There are those employers who experience the same difficulty in seeing beyond colour and race. My employer clients ask themselves why would a candidate deliberately mark their appearance by tattooing and therefore possibly present themselves with the same prejudices that a Black or Asian candidate would face? Thus sending my clients minds into perplexity and confusion. However as you correctly say despite legislation we will always be at the whim of people’s bias and prejudice. We are only human after all!

  3. I must say that I don’t really like tattoos but then some physiques become one or indeed some. But my personal preference is that no body should have excessive amounts of tattoos it defines the natural beauty of the body. Anyway, great article as ever. And a thought provoking read- especially for employers. Already looking forward to your next blog.

    1. Lifted to see that you enjoyed it. In your singing career I presume tattoos are not such a taboo and are often looked upon as an extension of their creative expression. Dannie if you are thinking of a tattoo please avoid the face and neck. In fact speak to me first!!! ??

  4. Morning Antoinette very interesting points raised with reference to the law and how freedom of expression meet. I have not researched the matter, but one of my former 18 year old students tells me that if you are under 25 years old you can find it very difficult to get an apprenticeship in tattoo art. So if this is true why is the tatoo industry not having apprenticeships for the Under 25s to promote the art.

    1. Thank you Selwyn for your continued support and contribution. Appreciated. I don’t know why it would be difficult for under 25-year-olds to get an apprenticeship in the tattoo studio. I know that obtaining an apprenticeship requires, amongst other things, dedication, hard work, talent, persistence, and most of all determination. Before seeking for an apprenticeship, you need to spend a good 6 to 12 months building a strong portfolio of work, meet tattooers, and generally build contacts. You will need to have to hand a couple of thousand pounds to support you over the initial period of an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship can take anywhere between 1 to 5 years. Hence the dedication and determination required. As the saying goes, “good apprenticeships aren’t easy and easy apprenticeships aren’t good”.

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