Visible tattoos are career limiting say ACAS

ACAS have have published new research on dress codes specifically addressing the proliferation of tattoos and piercings prevalent in the younger generation.

The research found that young people’s employment opportunities are especially affected as almost one in three young people have a tattoo. Other findings revealed that:

  • Negative attitudes towards tattoos and piercing from managers and employees can influence the outcome of recruitment exercises within some workplaces;
  • Some public sector workers felt that people would not have confidence in the professionalism of a person with a visible tattoo; and
  • Some private sector employers, from law firms to removal companies, all raised concerns about visible tattoos in relation to perceived negative attitudes of potential clients or customers.

Businesses are perfectly within their right to have rules around appearance at work which can include visible tattoos and piercings.

Earlier this year there was the story of Laura Hill who’s dream from the age of 14 was to join the RAF but at 27 was rejected because she’d decided to have a tattoo on her neck. One might have thought someone with a 13 year dream of a job in the RAF might know the rules, but she put her ink (knowingly or in ignorance) above her career prospects and, whether you love or loathe tattoos, that is still the reality of getting inked in a visible place.

ACAS say that “Almost a third of young people now have tattoos so, whilst it remains a legitimate business decision, a dress code that restricts people with tattoos might mean companies are missing out on talented workers”. Many companies would be quite willing to miss out on those talented workers. Attitudes to tattoos often vary from a warehouse position where the business may not care less, to a customer facing business like an merchant bank where the business may decide that heavily tattooed employees could put off some potential customers.

Businesses which appeal to a younger generation may be more lax in their attitudes to tattoos (e.g. ASOS models are often heavily inked whereas John Lewis models tend not to be).

The Equality Act 2010 bans discrimination on age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. It doesn’t prohibit discrimination on tattoos and piercings, so until people start claiming their tattoos are religious emblems, employers can carry on choosing whether to allow them in the work place or not. It also begs the question whether an existing employee who turns up to work with a new visible tattoo can be sacked – currently the answer is so long as due process is followed then yes then can.

Having read the ACAS research I got to thinking about the ecommerce and marketplace industry. As a relatively new market would it follow the same norms as other sectors? Over the past decade or so I’ve met hundreds of people that work for marketplaces, multichannel management companies, designers and other support services such as translation, label printing, accounting and couriers. Out of all the people I’ve met that support marketplace sellers, hardly anyone that I can recall has visible tattoos or piercings.

There are calls for anti-tattoo discrimination to be made illegal, but even that has problems. Where do you draw the line between a butterfly that could be considered attractive and offensive gangland style tatoos on the next job candidate? Plus a relatively new tattoo might be beautiful, but it’s hard to argue a thirty year old faded and stretched abomination of a tattoo that was amateurishly applied in the first place carries the same appeal.

Tattoos and piercings are a lifestyle choice. That decision still entails making the choice between having a tattoo or deciding not to limit your career prospects. According to ACAS you can’t have both.