Tattoos on show at work: Art or unprofessional?

  • Employee Conduct
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A few months ago, Mark Cropp felt hopeless. It seemed like every employer was taking one quick look at him and thinking, “He’s unemployable.” Aged just 19, the New Zealander faced a bleak, jobless future. But why? Well, the enormous tattoo across the bottom half of his face spelling out “DEVAST8” didn’t help. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a Google. News of Mark’s employment predicament spread faster than a cold at Christmas. And it raised quite a few questions for today’s business owners. Say if two young candidates with stellar credentials both applied for a role at your organisation, but one had a face semi-obscured by ink; ask yourself honestly, would it affect your decision? And would you be doing anything wrong if you refused to hire one over the other? Many employers aren’t so sure… A growing trend Tattoos are more popular than at any point in recent history. Around one in five people have one, with an even greater proportion of younger people (a third). They’ve become so normalised that many people barely bat an eyelid at the sight of a tattoo in public, but the world of employment is a little different. In some jobs, employees with tattoos aren’t a problem—particularly those in the creative and media industries. Some even see them as a positive trait; a sign of an employee’s individuality. On the other hand, industries like accountancy and legal services tend to take a dimmer view, while it’s safe to say that pretty much every employer will veto visible tattoos that cause offence. The legislation At the moment, there isn’t a general law to protect workers who have tattoos, so it’s quite common for a company to have a dress code requirement that bans employees from having tattoos on show. If you adopt such a policy, it allows you to ask staff to cover up tattoos to help project a certain image to your customers. But be careful with any blanket ban. Current legislation covers people who have tattoos for cultural or religious observance reasons. If you don’t recruit someone because of their religious tattoos or discipline them when they refuse to cover them, it’s likely to constitute discrimination (less favourable treatment on the grounds of religion). Furthermore, another reason to be careful of a ban is you could miss out on the best candidate for a role simply because of their appearance—similar to Mark Cropp. In the end, the publicity led to him landing a job—one where he could keep his “Devast8” face tattoo. It shows the importance of keeping your dress code policy updated. And, if it applies to you, make sure you include your business’s stance on visible tattoos. To learn more about how, please get in touch today.


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