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Your Guide To Tattoos In The Workplace

Your Guide To Tattoos In The Workplace

In recent years, tattoos have become increasingly commonplace in society. However, attitudes towards tattoos in the workplace remain mixed. This comprehensive guide provides advice on professionally navigating tattoos in the UK for both employees and employers.

Tattoo Popularity and Perceptions

According to YouGov research, 33% of Brits have at least one tattoo. 13% have a visible tattoo.

Tattoos are especially prevalent among Millennials and Gen Z. Of 18-24-year-olds surveyed, 45% had a tattoo. For 25-34 year olds, the rate was 36%.

Historically, tattoos faced stigma in the UK and were associated with criminality or rebellion. While attitudes have gradually shifted, reservations remain.

The YouGov survey found that 63% still consider visible tattoos unprofessional. This view is particularly common among those over 55 – 80% who regard highly visible tattoos like facials or neck tattoos as unprofessional.

So while society is growing more accepting of tattoos, significant reservations persist in professional contexts, especially among older generations.

Tattoos and UK Employment Law

Tattoos are not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This means UK employers have broad legal rights to:

  • Implement policies requiring staff to cover tattoos during work hours or events
  • Reject job applicants because they have prominent or offensive tattoos
  • Insist current employees permanently remove or lighten any tattoos deemed inappropriate

The only exception is tattoos relating to religious or spiritual beliefs, which may warrant protection as an expression of philosophical worldviews.

But otherwise, employers have wide latitude to restrict tattoo visibility in the workplace through policies, hiring practices, and staff management. This remains the prevailing legal environment for now.

Employer Concerns About Workplace Tattoos

Many employers still prefer limiting visible tattoos in the workplace. Typical concerns include:

Company Branding and Image

  • Visible tattoos on customer-facing staff may seem at odds with a conservative company image and brand identity, especially in traditional sectors like law, finance and healthcare.

Customer Perceptions

  • Customers may subconsciously find visible tattoos unprofessional, unsavoury or indicative of gang affiliations. This could undermine service quality and satisfaction.

Coworker Comfort

  • Tattoos with lewd, violent or otherwise offensive imagery may make coworkers uncomfortable. Tattoos could contribute to a hostile or sexualised work environment.

Health and Safety Risks

  • Tattoos can increase infection transmission risks in healthcare, food service and childcare roles. They may also catch on machinery in factories and industrial settings.

Professional Standards and Conduct

  • Organisations with formal dress codes aim to maintain standards by restricting visible tattoos. Law firms, law enforcement, receptionists or concierges often require a conservative, polished appearance.

Career Limitations

  • Tattoos are permanent body alterations. Highly visible offensive or unprofessional tattoos may severely limit future career options, especially in public-facing roles.

Recruitment and Retention

  • Strict anti-tattoo policies may deter some qualified candidates from applying and make it difficult to attract talent, especially among Millennial and Gen Z demographics.

However, overly rigid tattoo bans are falling out of favour as tattoos become mainstream. More employers are taking a pragmatic approach focused on business needs rather than appearances.

Industries and Roles More Accepting of Visible Tattoos

Industries and Roles More Accepting of Visible Tattoos

The acceptance of visible tattoos varies significantly depending on industry, role type and corporate culture. Some contexts tend to be more permissive:

Creative Fields

  • Music, media, fashion, arts, design and similar creative industries tend to be more open to visible tattoos. Self-expression is often prized.

Hospitality and Entertainment

  • Restaurants, bars, hotels, tourism and event companies often allow visible tattoos, especially for customer-facing staff.

Manual Trades

  • Construction, manufacturing, mechanic and general labour roles usually permit visible non-offensive tattoos with minimal restrictions.

Emergency Services

  • Firefighters, police, paramedics and military personnel often display non-offensive arm, leg or back tattoos without issue, though facial tattoos remain taboo.

Startups and Tech Companies

  • Younger tech firms and startups frequently have more relaxed attitudes about tattoos, except perhaps for client meetings or pitches.

Back-Office vs Customer-Facing

  • Back-office staff generally face fewer tattoo restrictions than public-facing customer service, sales and PR personnel.

Conversely, fields like law, finance, healthcare, academia and K-12 education often remain more conservative regarding visible tattoos, especially in client services and teaching roles.

Company Dress Codes and Tattoo Policies

Many employers address tattoos specifically through standard dress codes and appearance policies. Typical policy elements include:

  • Requiring staff to keep tattoos covered during work with clothing, makeup, or bandages
  • Restricting tattoo size, content, and placement (e.g. neck, face, hands)
  • Allowing visible, non-offensive tattoos only for non-client-facing back-office staff
  • Prohibiting offensive, racist, sexist, gang-affiliated or profane tattoo images
  • Permitting visible tattoos after an initial 3-6 month new hire probationary period
  • Mandating newly visible tattoos be approved by HR or management beforehand

When instituting policies, employers should ensure rules are equitably enforced, clearly communicated and consistently applied across all staff regardless of role, rank or demographic background.

Policies should strike a pragmatic balance between organisational standards and recruiting, and retaining diverse talent. And dress codes regarding tattoos should be periodically reviewed to keep pace with changing social norms.

Advice For Employees With Tattoos

Employees with conspicuous tattoos should adopt a professional, pragmatic approach:

Understand Current Policies

  • Thoroughly research company policies, norms and culture regarding tattoos before applying or interviewing. Don’t make assumptions.

Prepare to Discuss

  • Tactfully discuss your tattoos if raised during interviews. Calmly emphasise your qualifications, enthusiasm and cultural fit.

Comply Fully

  • Strictly adhere to any agreed-upon limitations or coverings mandated by company policy once hired. This builds manager trust.

Request Flexibility

  • Professionally request exemptions if rules cause significant detriment to your well-being or religious expression. But accept compromises gracefully for business needs.

Minimise Job Risks

  • Cautiously add new highly visible tattoos if prohibited by your employer. However, also consider that body art is a human right.

Lead by Example

  • Set an example through solid performance, teamwork, positivity and professionalism. Counter assumptions about capabilities or character.

Advocate Respectfully

  • Occasionally advocate for updated policies through proper channels, but only based on sound business rationales backed by data.

With the right balance of policy adherence, empathetic negotiation and leading by example, employees can often reach mutually agreeable solutions for balancing personal freedom and organisational standards regarding tattoos.

Getting Tattooed and Your Career

For those considering new prominent tattoos, carefully weigh potential professional implications first.

Highly visible tattoos like on the face, neck, or hands still carry a stigma in many career paths and industries. Avoid these ultra-prominent placements if working in traditionally conservative corporate, legal or academic fields.

Also, consider your longer-term career aspirations. While your current employer may permit visible tattoos, future roles may not. Having prominent tattoos could close doors to leadership opportunities even in some more relaxed sectors.

That said, understand that freedom of expression through body art is a human right.

If committed to getting conspicuous tattoos, be mentally prepared to limit your industry options to more tattoo-friendly careers where technical skills outweigh appearance norms. Prime examples are hospitality, manual trades, arts, music, tech startups and entrepreneurship.

And consult trusted mentors or managers discretely before proceeding. Their insights into corporate culture trends may prove invaluable.

Employees’ Rights Regarding Tattoo Discrimination

While UK employment law greenlights employer policies restricting tattoos, workers still have protections against unlawful discrimination:

  • Dismissals based solely on having acceptable tattoos may be contested as unfair, provided employees comply fully with workplace policies.
  • Requiring staff to remove tattoos as a condition of continued employment is likely unreasonable without an exceptionally compelling rationale.
  • Offensive tattoo content must genuinely violate company conduct policies and persistently create a hostile work environment to warrant disciplinary action.
  • Ensure employers apply tattoo appearance rules equitably across all workers, regardless of gender, race, age, seniority or other protected characteristics.

So while employees should respect organisational policies, they can seek legal redress if tattoo-related rules are imposed in unlawfully or unreasonably discriminatory ways.

Advice for Employers on Tattoo Policies

Advice for Employers on Tattoo Policies

Forward-thinking employers take a pragmatic yet compassionate approach to balancing organisational standards with employee freedom of expression:

Policy Development

  • Set clear, consistent policies based on genuine business needs – not personal biases. Regularly review them to keep pace with changing social norms.
  • Train managers on implementing rules respectfully, discreetly and equitably. Avoid shaming or singling out individuals.

Hiring Practices

  • Focus on skills, merit and enthusiasm – not tattoos or appearance. Avoid snap judgements about tattooed candidates. Give fair chances.
  • Frame necessary discussions about potentially problematic tattoos using a positive, non-judgmental approach. Maintain dignity.

Management Techniques

  • Foster open dialogue encouraging staff to share the personal significance of tattoos if desired. Be understanding.
  • Make reasonable exceptions when possible, especially for religious, cultural or memorial tattoos. Seek creative compromises that uphold standards while supporting well-being.
  • Enforce policies evenly across all workers regardless of gender, race, age or role. Be consistent to prevent biased perceptions.

Organisational Culture

  • Promote diversity, inclusion and belonging alongside professionalism. Don’t let tattoos detract from the focus on character and capabilities.
  • Don’t single out tattooed staff. Intervene if they face ridicule or questions from colleagues. Protect privacy.

With the right balance of nuanced policy, even-handed enforcement, and workplace culture, employers can enable professional self-expression through body art while upholding industry standards.

Key Takeaways

  • While tattoo prevalence is rising significantly, visible tattoos still carry stigma in some professional contexts. Attitudes vary greatly by generation.
  • UK employment law grants employers broad rights to implement anti-tattoo policies. However social acceptance is gradually increasing.
  • Tattoo acceptance depends on industry, role type, corporate culture and the specific image. Blanket bans are falling out of favour in most sectors.
  • Employees should respect policies but can request discretionary flexibility if rules cause harm or religious infringement.
  • Employers should focus on merit and capabilities, not appearances. Clear, fairly enforced policies are essential for organisational standards.
  • With empathy and compromise from both parties, companies can support personal freedom while upholding professional standards regarding appropriate tattoos.

Final Thoughts

The key is finding a pragmatic balance between organisational needs and employee self-expression.

As societal attitudes evolve, employers must weigh the benefits of diversity and inclusion against the potential risks of excessive tattoos in client-facing roles.

With teamwork, nuanced policies, and a thoughtful workplace culture, companies can enable professional body art while upholding industry standards.

But facial, throat and hand tattoos remain taboo across many fields. Carefully consider career implications before getting highly conspicuous tattoos.

With compromise and good judgement on appropriate tattoo type, visibility, and messaging, employers and staff together can determine the right comfort zone regarding tattoos for their specific workplace context.

Additional Considerations

Below are some further points for both employers and employees to consider regarding tattoos in the workplace:

Employer Perspectives

  • Periodically survey staff on attitudes toward current tattoo policies and cultural norms. Generate data to inform policy reviews.
  • Consider allowing temporary tattoo coverings during the interview process to avoid initial bias. Focus on qualifications first.
  • Research suggests that extreme anti-tattoo policies may unconsciously impact hiring decisions even when trying to remain neutral.
  • Consider that rigid policies may deter qualified candidates with tattoos, limiting your applicant pool.
  • Tattoos do not harm job capability. With empathy and compromise, you can likely retain top talent regardless of appearance preferences.

Employee Tips

  • Research typical tattoo sizes and placement options. Seek designs that can realistically be covered if needed for your profession.
  • Consider waiting until after the recruitment process to get new visible tattoos if job hunting, especially in conservative sectors.
  • If interacting with clients, gauge their generational attitudes and comfort with tattoos. Adapt your covering strategy accordingly.
  • Frame tattoo discussions in terms of company values like professionalism, respect, and quality customer service.
  • Offer to wear company-branded coverings to events and meetings to demonstrate loyalty if policies require concealment.

Conclusion

With compromise and understanding, employers and employees can find mutually agreeable solutions for balancing organisational standards with freedom of expression when it comes to appropriate tattoos in the modern workplace.

The key is open communication, reasonable flexibility and focusing on qualifications, performance and service quality rather than appearances.

While legal rights favour employers, smart leaders also consider recruitment, retention, morale, and diversity when shaping tattoo-related policies.

With sound judgement, respect for self-expression and data-driven policy reviews, employers can uphold both standards and inclusion as societal attitudes continue evolving.

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