Are talented employees with tattoos being overlooked?

Alan Price – Chief Operations Officer

October 10 2016

With figures reporting that one in three young people have a tattoo, Acas are encouraging employers to relax rules around hiring people with tattoos to ensure that they are not restricting their available pool of talented employers. Most employers still have traditional employment practices and policies in place which restrict visible tattoos in the workplace. Under current laws this is lawful as tattoos do not fall within current discrimination legislation, although there are some grey areas regarding tattoos of religious significance or where these are used to cover a disfigurement. Employers often state the company rules regarding tattoos in workplace dress codes and this will usually require employee to cover up tattoos whilst at work. In most circumstances, business rules on visible tattoos will be applied during recruitment exercises. This will mean that, where visible tattoos are banned, employers will apply these rules and refuse to employ someone because of a visible tattoo. This will be more prevalent for roles that are customer-facing. Acas have recognised that most businesses try to project their image through their employees who are ultimately the “face of the business” and, for that reason, have rules regarding tattoos. It is recommended that any decision on covering tattoos at work should be contained in a written dress or appearance code which is communicated to all staff. Dress codes should cover, if necessary, any variations to the rules such as ‘dress down days’, ‘Casual Fridays’ etc. This will allow employees to know what is, and isn’t, required of them regarding existing tattoos and will provide them with the opportunity to regard the company’s stance on these before acquiring one. The debate around tattoos may spur some businesses to review  their current stance on this issue. Employers should look at the needs of their business before implementing a rule which may not be necessary. If employees are completely office based then is there a legitimate business reason to restrict visible tattoos or is it simply a management preference? Even where the role is predominantly customer facing, a strict dress code may not always be required and these could be updated to reflect modern views on tattoos. In some sectors, such as arts and entertainment, tattoos are even seen as an advantage as they signify creativity. For now, continuing with traditional views on tattoos could lead to employers restricting their talent pool and deter talented individuals from applying for roles.

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