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Anti-tattoo Discrimination

One in five people have at least one tattoo somewhere on their body. From David Beckham to Samantha Cameron, it’s a trend that is becoming more and more popular. Some are now asking for protection under employment law to ensure there is no less favourable treatment for having tattoos.

As an employer, you will probably have a dress code policy and this may include tattoos and piercings. This will usually say that any tattoos should be covered up in the work place and any facial piercings should be removed; discreet earrings are usually acceptable. The BBC recently published an article on how a number of employees had been dismissed from various companies because they had not adhered to the company’s requirements. One employee was dismissed for have a 4cm tattoo of a butterfly on her foot on show contrary to the company policy. While in the circumstances this may have been lawful, it could potentially become unlawful in the future if petitioners have a say.

Some industries are more relaxed about these rules than others. For example, business with high expectations of a groomed, fairly conservative appearance will be more demanding than those who work in the building trade.

A man from Birmingham who changed his name by deed poll to King of Ink Land King Body Art The Extreme Ink-Ite (Body Art for short),is in favour of leveling the playing field for those with tattoos. The 34-year-old describes himself as the most tattooed man in the UK and has his entire face inked. He argues that if someone can do the job, they should be equal to the next person, whether they have tattoos or not. This is not a view that many others share. Employers have concerns of how the organisation will be perceived by customers and clients if an employee had visible tattoos. Described as ‘untidy’ and ‘unsavoury’, tattoos leave an image that is unprofessional and sometimes even intimidating. And there is the risk that the appearance can deteriorate as the owner ages and the skin changes.

Of course, just because someone has a tattoo does not mean they are not suitable for the job; many are able to cover tattoos discreetly for example by wearing long sleeve tops. The Metropolitan Police ban tattoos on the face, hands and above the collar line; key places where they cannot be covered.

The phrase ‘think before you ink’ is more relevant than ever. Tattoos may be fashionable but that does not make them professional. An employee needs to be able to do the job but should also be able to represent the company; if an employee has visible tattoos that cannot be covered, the image a company has worked hard to achieve will not be continually portrayed, possibly leading to damaging effects.

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