28th November 2016

The taboo around tattoos and piercings at work

Deputy Lifestyle Editor Araddhna Patel talks about the increasing popularity of tattoos and piercings, and how this effects employees at work

Imagine this. You’re the owner of your own company looking to hire someone to work for you. There are two applicants in particular that you cannot choose between — let’s assume that both are very similar in terms of academic records and experience. However, one of the applicants has an eyebrow piercing and tattoos on their arm that you notice when they push up their sleeves during the interview. Would this affect your decision on who to hire?

Tattoos and ‘unconventional’ piercings — anywhere other than the earlobes — used to be associated with rock stars, gang members, and bikers for a long time. Nowadays, they are more widely accepted, but there is still a certain stigma around them in the workplace. found in their research that 37% of Human Resources managers cite tattoos as the third-most-likely physical attribute to limit career potential. In the UK, the law on workplace equality does not protect people with tattoos, meaning that employers are allowed to choose whether or not they want to hire someone based on body art.

Acas state on their website that some employers do not think tattoos and piercings fit with the ethos of their company. In 2014, Jo Perkins, a 38-year-old consultant at Salisbury FM, had her contract terminated because of a visible butterfly tattoo on her foot. The chief executive Ed Swales claimed that the company did not ban tattoos, but required them to be covered in the workplace to “ensure employees and contractors project the professional image we want customers to see in Salisbury.” Ms Perkins considered legal action for the discrimination she faced; however, it was doubtful that she would win because the company policy clearly stated that tattoos needed to be covered.

Despite not being protected by the law in this country, certain company policies do allow tattoos. The NHS Dress Code and Uniform Policy states: “It is recognised that in today’s society many individuals now have tattoos. Where a staff member has a tattoo in an area that remains exposed when wearing their uniform this must not be offensive. Where a tattoo is considered inappropriate or likely to cause upset to patients, carers, visitors or other staff the individual will be requested to cover the tattoo.”

It’s clear that tattoos and piercings are more popular than ever in today’s society. Around one in five Brits are thought to have a tattoo, and one in ten have a piercing somewhere other than their earlobe. It certainly looks like employers will have to alter their dress code policies at some point in the future. Because, honestly, does a visible tattoo tell you anything significant about an individual that is relevant to the job? Does having a piercing mean you won’t put in as much effort into your job as everyone else? As an employer, are you less likely to trust someone who has permanently inked themselves? I th-ink not.

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