Law vs Mindset: Tattoos in the Workplace

Photo Credits - Oleg Ivanov via Unsplash

With ever-changing trends in self-expression and fashion, the topic of tattoos in the workplace continues to be discussed. With this being increasingly common, many are wondering if tattoos will affect their employment. The stigma behind having tattoos have completely shifted, and this is a cause of concern for individuals who have visible tattoos.

Some organisations have implemented more relevant policies to reflect the change in societal perception of tattoos. Earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic became the first UK airline to allow cabin crew to have visible tattoos. This shift in policy act as a part of their branding campaign, “championing individuality”.

Since 2018, the London Metropolitan Police have also implemented a similar policy on tattoos, by relaxing the ban on recruiting candidates with visible tattoos. In the past, candidates with visible tattoos were automatically rejected and now such candidates will be considered “on a case-by-case basis” if the tattoos are not offensive.

These organisations have implemented policies that reflect the change in societal perception of tattoos. However, this is not shared with many other organisations in the UK as some still have aversions toward employees having visible tattoos. Concerns about visible tattoos are usually due to the possibility of projecting an unprofessional or untrustworthy image that may be damaging to the organisation.

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The Law on Tattoos in the Workplace

Although tattoos may not affect productivity or competency in the workplace, some employers may have restrictions against them. It is known that people have been dismissed from their roles or rejected from a position due to having visible tattoos. Some have expressed that this feels discriminative as tattoos represent their self-expression.

However, legally, companies are allowed to fire or deny someone from employment due to having visible tattoos. The Equality Act 2010 protected characteristics do not include having tattoos – even though some have pushed for tattoos to be included. Restricting employees from having visible tattoos is not considered unlawful discrimination and companies are allowed to have policies against tattoos to maintain a certain image.

Allowing visible tattoos are at the full discretion of the employer. When considering getting a tattoo, employees should consult with their employer before to ensure it will not affect their employment.

The Mindset on Tattoos in the Workplace

Knowing that tattoos are at their full discretion, some companies such as Virgin Atlantic have taken the decision to allow them. This decision was driven by the shift in society’s perception of tattoos – as well as aligning policies to their brand image.

YouGov conducted a study on tattoos in the workplace. From this study, it is known that 26% of the British public have tattoos – and 11% have at least one visible tattoo. The prevalence of tattoos nowadays has shifted the perception of tattoos. Although the general British population are split on their opinion on tattoos, the younger generation is more likely to feel positive about tattoos.

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Through this study, 64% say they would not consider visible tattoos as unprofessional – apart from face and neck tattoos. Most people in Britain think face and neck tattoos are unprofessional, although the younger generation is split on this matter. Additionally, this study has also revealed that the public considers certain professions such as retail staff, low-cost wait staff and firefighters more acceptable to have tattoos than other professions.

This shows that there is a growing acceptance of tattoos in the workplace, although opinions are still split within the general public. Even though currently there is no legal basis that protects tattoos in the workplace, the perception shift on tattoos leads to more workplaces accepting tattoos in the future.


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