Tattoos in the workplace

Adrian Barnes was recently invited onto BBC Radio Nottingham’s David Richardson show to talk about tattoos in the workplace and whether or not employers can refuse to employ someone with tattoos.

It would appear that more and more people are getting tattoos, in fact some statistics show that 1 in 3 of the 18 to 29 age group has one or more. Figures of the establishment like Judi Dench and Samantha Cameron both have tattoos. But can having a tattoo cause problems in the workplace and as an employer can you ask employees not to have them?

Tattoos are definitely not covered under the discrimination legislation (Equality Act 2010), although some people with tattoos have tried to suggest that they are discriminated against, so you would not be in trouble for refusing to employ someone with a tattoo, but that may in itself be a fairly shortsighted approach to hiring. I think employers have to decide why not to employ someone because of body art, perhaps it is the perception that customers might be offended by tattoos. Certainly the armed forces seem to have rules on tattoos – nothing offensive and nothing that wouldn’t be covered by a No1 dress uniform. Perhaps it is the first part of this that could cause a problem – nothing offensive. That is a subjective decision so it is open to interpretation as to what is or isn’t offensive.

For most employers that are worried about tattoos it is probably easiest to have a policy that states “no visible ink for customer facing employees”, that would certainly seem to be the simplest way to go and the way that might cause the least problems. But, what happens when you get the ideal candidate and they have a tattoo, will you relax the rule or change your policy?

Adrian Barnes

The Employment Law experts at Premier Legal can advise on all polices for your staff handbook, including a policy regarding dress codes or tattoos in the workplace – call us on 0330 555 0235 or at our Nottingham Head Office on 0115 988 6211