What’s All the Fuss about Tattoos?

Tattoos are increasingly a part of everyday life, crossing social and cultural boundaries, appearing at every level of a business. The days when tattoos, always a feature in the horticultural business, were considered a novelty favoured by specific social groups and subcultures, have long gone.

But still, not all employers are welcoming of tattoos, and many businesses are run by the generation that would prefer them to be covered up, because they are not ‘professional’ enough. So, is this just a generational issue, unfair bias, or a rational and reasonable concern? Should body art enthusiasts be told to cover up their tattoos at work or would this be discrimination?

One in five people in Britain have a tattoo, and so this is a relevant employment issue for many UK businesses. Is it more than just a valid form of self-expression – no different from the employee’s choice of shoes or tie?

One business consultant in Milton Keynes, claimed to have lost her job because of a tattoo on her foot.

This seems an excessive reaction and is unlikely to be the approach for most horticulture businesses – but then again, most businesses don’t have a properly considered policy. So, what should your approach be, and would it be different for customer-facing staff? Would you want someone at the till with a face tattoo for example?

Well, the first thing to remember is that the Equality act for 2013 can be used to claim that censorship of tattoos is an infringement of someone’s human rights. At the end of the day, the employee does have the right to have, and display, tattoos as they see fit.

The best approach seems to be one of consultation and consideration – employment is a two-way street, and while employers should accept the individual’s individuality, employees should realise that how they present themselves affects both the business and the customers.

The key for employers is to have a written policy that employees are required to read and sign, and then to enforce that policy consistently. That way, employees are not able to claim that the policy was applied differently to them. And the policy should be based on sound judgment that is in the best interest of the business. That means that employee and customer interests also need to be considered.

Work with your human resources department to develop written dress code/appearance policies that are reasonable and can be enforced consistently. Check with human resources and/or legal counsel before talking with an employee about covering a tattoo unless it is clear that the tattoo has no religious significance and having the employee cover the tattoo is consistent with your policy.

Also remember, making assumptions about the qualifications of people who have tattoos is not only unfounded, it may result in discrimination claims against your company. According to a 2006 survey, 40% of people between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo, which means that, at all levels of your organisation, at all levels of education, there will be employees who have tattoos – and this percentage is only likely to have increased since 2006.


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