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Tattoos in the workplace

2nd October, 2014

Tattoos have become increasingly common in the past few years to the point that 20% of Britons now have at least one.

With Twitter acting as an all-access pass to celebrities, it only takes one picture being posted online before their new ‘ink’ is reproduced onto the bodies of many fans.

Whilst tattoos are currently most common among thirty-somethings, it appears that employers are less enthusiastic, considering tattoos unprofessional.

There has been various reports of individuals being unsuccessful in job applications purely due to their choice of tattoos. Those already in jobs have also been affected with one retail worker claiming that he was forced to leave his job for having some 80 tattoos. Tattoos continue to be construed negatively, despite many noteworthy supporters including the prime minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron.

The man dubbed ‘Britain’s most tattooed man’ has fronted campaigns and e-petitions against the alleged negativity towards tattoos in the workplace. So the question is, what can or should employers do about tattoos in the workplace?

Employers may wish to consider implementing a policy restricting tattoo visibility. Tattoo policies frequently include a ban on tattoos to the face, neck or hands, together with outright bans on offensive tattoos.

Employers should consider the reasons for implementing a tattoo policy in their workplace in order to increase employee awareness and engagement. For example, some employers may require the policy to maintain a professional appearance and to prevent offensive tattoos severely damaging their reputation. There are also certain industries, such as airlines, where visibility bans on tattoos have been commonplace for several years.

Once appropriate policies have been properly implemented in the workplace, we would recommend specific training for managers on how to deal with the policy; and the provision of information to all staff. Employers must then ensure that they deal with tattoo issues consistently, fairly and in accordance with the policy.

Despite numerous tattoo enthusiasts labelling their treatment as ‘discrimination’, UK legislation, through the Equality Act 2010, does not expressly provide any protection for discrimination ‘because of’ tattoos. Employers should be mindful of potential exceptions, such as through religion and belief discrimination.

Tattoo bans have already been accepted in many areas of the world such as the USA, New Zealand and Japan but the UK will await further developments on this topic.

For further information and advice in relation to polices in the workplace, please contact Claire Brook on 01244 405575 or send an email to [email protected].

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