Tattoos and Work

What are your views on Tattoos and Work?

Never judge a book by a cover is a famous saying however many employees still face difficulties in the workplace when it comes to workplace tattoos. No matter what your personal preference on the matter is, the general attitude towards tattoos has changed and now it is considered in some circles as a form of art and artistic expression.  The world has moved on from the days of the odd Chinese symbol and broken RIP heart stamps. 

Tattoos are traditionally dealt with by way of a dress code policy and any given dress code policy should be clear and fair when imposing restrictions upon staff appearance. Historical case law confirms the need for balance between the employer’s interests and the rights of the employee. It will of course depend on the type of business and the interactions that take place in the workspace.

Now tattoos are much more prevalent within society and with the rise of social media, tattoos are often now assimilated with influencers alike. However, generations opinions differ and a recent survey by YouGov found that 1 in 3 people have tattoos and 13% have visible tattoos.

Common visible tattoos can be on the head, neck, forearms and hands. The study showed that the most common age range for these types of tattoos is 25-54.

So, the question is, do visible tattoos pose a problem in the workplace?

Attitudes vary by age range and certain professions face more resistance to acceptance than others particularly those involving children. Visible tattoos can still be seen by some as ‘unprofessional’ but should they?

As attitudes change policies are emerging with new tolerance levels for visible tattoos most notably in the Police. Forces across the UK have relaxed rules and other corporations are following suit. The main caveat in any relaxation of rules appears to be as long as the tattoos are not deemed offensive.

Defining what is offensive is a whole new discussion however any profane words or political statements could provide reasonable grounds to refuse a job to an applicant for example.

Employers should think about their own policies and dress codes particularly around the interview process and whether a visible tattoo would influence your internal recruitment process.

Currently an individual is not protected by anti-discrimination legislation regarding tattoos which provides a wide scope to employers to refuse certain job applicants from being selected for roles. However, it is important to differentiate tattoos from those that hold religious significance as any decision based on a tattoo based on faith and beliefs could arguably fall within the scope of protection offered by the Equality Act 2010 on the protection against detrimental treatment based on faith.

Many employers over the last decade have introduced smart casual as standard rather than smart business dress. Now that many employers offer remote or hybrid working, policies should also look to reflect this working mode. If an employer restricts visible tattoos, then I would recommend that it is explained why.

Another key point to consider is consistency in application and treatment between males and females should be the same otherwise you are at risk of being accused of sex discrimination.

If you want to bring in a policy into the workplace, then you should consider the effect it would have. Any strict enforcement of visible tattoos may cause real issues for existing staff and may conflict with your equality and diversity policy which focuses on inclusion.

It is important to consider how any standards imposed relate to other policies or vision statements and the overall values of the business. Employers also need to take into consideration that you could potentially exclude a whole swathe of talent particularly in creative industries where individuals within the sector often see tattoos as an expression of themselves. In addition, society will further change, and employers may be in real danger of being perceived as old fashioned or non-progressive if taking a strong stance against what is now a very accepted form of expression.

What if an existing long-standing employee turns up to the office with a visible and/or offensive tattoo? Can they be dismissed?

Dismissal would only be potentially fair under misconduct or some other substantial reasons and will depend on your internal policies already in place.

The question is whether an employer’s response is fair and within the band of reasonableness. So, for example, a fair process would be to provide the employee an opportunity to respond to the issue and determine an outcome based on the evidence.

Ultimately if a claim for unfair dismissal was made the Employment Tribunal would have to determine whether your response was reasonable looking at all the factors and any mitigating circumstances. Factors could include the industry you are in, interactions with others, whether the tattoo is offensive or causes any material detriment to the employer.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

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