Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, with some loving tattoos and believing that they are a work of art and others despising them. But what is your view about tattoos in the workplace?
Some have reported that having a tattoo on show has meant that they have not been offered a job or promotion and others allege that their employment has been terminated as a result of their inking. This is backed up by findings from ACAS who state "individuals with visible tattoos/piercings appeared to be stereotyped and faced stigma". It is important to note that having a tattoo is not a "protected characteristic" under the discrimination laws, so at first glance it perhaps seems there is little legal challenge to such a situation. However, if it is the case that, for example, the employer finds a tattoo on a man acceptable but a tattoo on a woman unacceptable, there could be grounds for a sex discrimination claim. There is perhaps also an interesting question about whether there would be any age discrimination issues - is it more common for younger people to have a visible tattoo?
In dismissal cases, employers need to carefully consider the laws on unfair dismissal if the employee has over two years' service. What would be the fair reason for dismissal in a case where an employee simply gets a visible tattoo? Some may argue that their position becomes untenable because the company's corporate image is damaged by the inking. Whether this would be considered by an Employment Tribunal to be a fair reason for dismissal will depend on the specific circumstances. What does the employee do? If they wash dishes in the kitchen of a hotel (and so are never seen by customers), it is a very different situation to when the employee is the head teacher of a school. What is the tattoo like? If it shows a massive and violent bloodbath scene on their neck or rude words across their knuckles, it is a very different to say, a small dolphin on someone's ankle.
Many employers seem to take a pragmatic approach to tattoos and simply require them to be covered at work. Dress codes often include a requirement for all visible tattoos to be covered up. However, there can be potential challenges to such rules as an employee may argue that they have their tattoo for religious reasons or due to a genuinely held belief. This leaves employers grappling with discrimination laws which protect religion and belief.
Finally, just in case anyone was wondering, disability discrimination is not usually a relevant consideration as having a tattoo is not considered as a severe disfigurement for the purposes of disability discrimination laws.
For more about tattoos at work, the ACAS guidance on dress codes and their research paper entitled "Dress codes and appearance at work: Body supplements, body modification and aesthetic labour" can be found at http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4953.
Margaret Mountford, the lawyer and businesswoman best known for being Lord Alan Sugar’s right-hand woman on The Apprentice... recently warned tattoos “are a real problem for young people” in the workplace, and could kill their career chances: “Some people seem to think tattoos are like jewellery, but not to me and not to many others.”