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SVC article

Is having a tattoo still a workplace taboo?

August 11, 2023

With the rise in popularity of ink art, Charlotte Flatman from SVC Solutions asks if tattoos are still a taboo in the workplace and explains what an employee needs to know to avoid disagreements.

There was a time when tattoos were very rarely seen in the workplace. Certainly within the retail and hospitality sectors, there was a feeling that body art was in some way unsavoury and reflected badly on a brand.

At a job interview, there would certainly be a likelihood that visible tattoos would count against a possible candidate and there would be a similar interpretation for multiple piercings.

But attitudes towards body art have certainly shifted in recent years and government research has shown that while more than 59% of those aged 55 plus had a negative view of tattoos, this dropped to 21% among those aged from 18 to 24.

Just over a quarter of the British public have a tattoo and of these, 11% have at least one generally visible tattoo, whether this be on their head, face, neck, forearms, wrists or hands.

So should an employee still feel required to cover these up in the workplace? And where does an employer stand when it comes to their rights around tattoos?

Firstly, there is a no specific legislation that covers the area of tattoos within the context of employment law. The only exception to this is in cases where the content of the tattoo includes political or religious references which might cause offence.

An employer does of course have the right to set out a clear dress code for employees to follow, and this can include requirements for visible piercings to be removed or for legs and arms to be covered.
However, don’t forget to consider that as employer there might also be a responsibility to over a more casual summer dress code in warmer weather and there is the possibility that this might change the visibility of an employee’s tattoo.

While an employee should be mindful to consider what is appropriate in their work setting, throughout the interview process, an employer must keep in mind that having a tattoo has no direct impact on a candidate’s ability to do their job.

What is most important is for an employer to remain transparent, fair and consistent with clear policies around these issues of staffing. If there are concerns that need to be raised and an understanding of what parameters are required, then these are conversations that should be had at the interview stage of the recruitment process.

If it’s an existing employee who adds body art or piercings to their appearance which contradicts an existing dress code, that becomes an issue to be addressed. Of course, in that scenario having a relevant and up to date dress code policy overseen by a qualified HR professional is essential for protecting the employer in the best possible way.

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