Legal Q&A: Tattoos and Employment

Q. Can I refuse to employ someone who displays a number of tattoos?

A. More and more people these days are having tattoos and “body art” is popular particularly with young people. You may be missing out on the best talent by allowing an outdated negative attitude to get in the way of proper recruitment decisions. Although workers do not have stand-alone protection under discrimination law for having a tattoo i.e. they are not defined as “severe disfigurements” within the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 employers do not have a free reign to discriminate against such persons.

There is a substantial argument to say that a blanket policy forbidding tattoos in the workplace can promote generational prejudice and could result in a claim of indirect age discrimination. Such a claim would be based on the practice of the employer forbidding tattoos which is more likely to cause a disadvantage to a younger employee rather than someone who may be older.  Similarly such a refusal might constitute grounds for indirect discrimination because of the employee’s religious belief. I would suggest that you reconsider your dress code practice and consider the wider benefits of attracting a socially diverse workforce that embraces modern concepts of freedom of expression.

To speak to Martin Bloom about any aspect of Employment Law call 01733 295 632 or email martin.bloom@hegarty.co.uk.