Changing attitudes to tattoos and the workplace
In 2016, ACAS produced a report which warned that a negative attitude towards tattoos, could result in employers missing out on talented employees. Following this report, the Metropolitan Police relaxed their rules in the hopes of attracting new recruits, now reviewing visible tattoos case by case rather than instant rejection.
Statista conducted a study in 2015 that found that 20% of 25-39 year olds had at least one tattoo and 21 % of 40-59 year olds. The survey also asked whether people thought less or more positively of people with tattoos. 44% of the people asked said that seeing a large tattoo on another person would have no impact on how they thought about them.
The Knowledge Academy also carried out research on tattoos in the workplace in 2019, focusing on whether tattoos were becoming normalised. It looked at different jobs from MPs to hairdressers, fashion designers to doctors and found that for most professions the answer ‘don’t mind’ was the most popular answer. However, whilst the acceptance of tattoos may have increased, there are still some professions where customer tolerance for them may be tested.
What can an employer do about a tattooed employee?
Legally, there are currently no employment laws that govern tattoos in the workplace, visible or otherwise. Therefore, an employer may be within their rights to reject a potential employee on the basis of them having a visible tattoo. The same principles apply to the dismissal of a staff member who gets a tattoo during the period of time they are employed by the company.
We suggest that employers have a clear dress code policy that sets out the expected workplace attire for all staff members and includes the business rationale for each point. The employer could argue that visible tattoos have a detrimental effect on the business and that they could create a less than positive impression to new and potential customers.
The law does protect staff from unfair treatment at work based on certain protected characteristics. Tattoos and body art are not listed as a protected characteristic but there may be cases where the tattoo is linked to one of the protected characteristics. For example, a tattoo might have a religious reasoning. It is also worth considering that 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 if a larger proportion of younger employees have tattoos.
Furthermore, it is important that what is stated in the dress code policy is fair and consistent for all staff. For example, a female employee with a visible tattoo should be dealt with in the same manner as a male employee with a visible tattoo otherwise an employee could open a claim of discrimination based on sex.
If an employer wishes to prevent issues it can be helpful to ensure that a dress code covers all elements of physical appearance for the avoidance of ambiguity i.e., clothing, jewellery, tattoos, hair colourings etc.
How can we help?
At Hegarty Solicitors we can offer help and advice for a range of employment law issues, from advising on correct policies and procedures, to assisting with discrimination claims.