Are tattoos really still taboo in the workplace?

Research reveals that tattoos are still seen as undesirable at many workplaces. Is this really still the case?

According to research commissioned by Acas from academics at King’s College, tattoos are still considered unacceptable in many workplaces.

But in a time when inclusive hiring is a la mode, is having a tattoo all that taboo?

HR diversity consultancy, The Clear Company, says no. The consultancy works with large multi-nationals to help them to become more inclusive in their hiring decisions. As director Kate Headley points out, bias around body art and piercings is one of the most hotly debated modules in its Inclusive Recruitment and Selection training programme, suggesting that tattoos may be just as divisive a hiring issue now as it was decades ago.

“Without exception, case studies around tattoos always lead to an interesting and often heated discussion that invariably concludes that sticking to an evidenced based selection process, with a clearly defined candidate specification, reduces the opportunity for subjective criteria, such as appearance, to influence hiring decisions,” Headley says.

Is it illegal to discriminate against people with body art or piercings?

People with body art and piercings aren’t covered by the Equality Act 2010, so discriminating against them is not illegal. However, Headley argues that the opinions of those who see tattoos as a reason not to employ someone are almost certainly generated by the same biases that effect people who are protected by the law.

“Tattoos are perhaps seen by some as an indication of someone’s background, often associated with criminal behaviour, anti-establishment thinking and a lack of respect for authority. Yet these are all assumptions based on conceptions created by a broader society influenced by stereotypes, like the tendency for people with tattoos being depicted as the ‘bad guys’ in fiction,” she explains.

According to Headley, the issue for people with tattoos is getting employers to see beyond this stereotypical bias. It’s the same struggle people with visible markers face, whether it is gender, race, or disabilities. “The biases may be different in terms of type and manifestation but the discrimination experienced by both parties is broadly the same,” she adds.

Isn’t body modification a choice?

People may argue that tattoos are a ‘choice made by the individual’ and they should accept the judgement that comes with making that choice, Headley continues. “But religion is also a personal choice and yet it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of faith.”

While body art is not a legally protected characteristic, employers should be open to cultural changes, to discuss these issues with their employees, their potential employees and their customers.

“After all, one in three younger adults now has at least one tattoo and whether they’re an employee, seeking employment or a customer of a brand, they will inevitably be negatively influenced by perceived or experienced discrimination against body art.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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