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PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION

FEATURE ARTICLE

TATTOOS AT WORK: SHOULD THEY BE ALLOWED?

In previous eras, tattoos were perceived to be the calling card of an outlaw or a sailor. Within the public eye, their presence on the skin of another person meant that trouble was close by.

However, it’s not the 1920s anymore and tattoos have culturally transformed into yet another form of self-expression. In 2020, you’re just as likely to walk past a mother in the supermarket with her baby’s name on her wrist, or even a businessman hiding his bicep tribal wolf with a crisp white shirt than you are to encounter one on a criminal.

 

YouGov research stated that 30% of UK adults sport some kind of tattoo – 70% of whom have at least two – 20% of whom have more than five.

Last month a French schoolteacher whose body, face and tongue are covered in tattoos and who has had the whites of his eyes surgically turned black said he was prevented from teaching at a French kindergarten after a parent complained he scared their child.

Sylvain Helaine was told he gave “children nightmares” and school authorities informed him he would no longer teach young children.

Mr Helaine said he hoped to show his pupils that they should accept people who are different from the norm. “Maybe when they are adults, they will be less racist and less homophobic and more open-minded,” he responded.

So, as a result of this drastic increase in body art, is the societal view of tattoos is changing? 

History of Tattoos – a society created for the preservation of tattoo heritage, found that 69% of the general public see no difference between those sporting ink and those without it.

 

A study in the effects of sporting ink in the workplace by ACAS found that those with tattoos that are visible, even whilst wearing professional clothing, are drastically less likely to land a new job, whilst a King’s College research paper, which interviewed CEOs from a wide array of companies, found that the vast majority were reluctant to take on visibly tattooed staff. This may well be why 72% of adults with tattoos make sure that they are all placed in areas usually hidden by clothing.

Kristian Jones is the Events and Training Co-ordinator at the Black Country Chamber of Commerce he started getting tattoos at the age of 19, he told Prosper, “Tattoos to me are a form of creative expression, I was always around creative individuals from my late teens, right through college and then at the early part of my career.

 

“I was very involved in environments where tattoo artwork was the norm – this definitely started my love for tattoos and influenced my choices. 

Kris continued, “Personally, I haven’t experienced discrimination in the workplace because of my tattoos, I may have done behind closed doors, but not directly to my face.

“In a work environment I am employed because of my skill set not for my tattoos, but if I’m honest they are always a great conversation starter in business meetings or when meeting someone for the first time. I have found that people are quite fascinated, or impressed by them, and want to ask questions which is great.

 

“I think in the business, and the professional world we live in, we are becoming more tolerant and forward-thinking, and work is being done to stamp out all sorts of discrimination, but we still have a long way to go!”

However, according to the Kings College research paper, it is believed that no matter how liberal your stance is on this issue of tattoos in the workplace, 95% of decision-makers would draw the line at facial tattoos which in mind contribute to losing the originality and natural identity of a person rather than adding to their persona.

For those who believe this to be legally questionable, Lucy Williams from Higgs & Sons Solicitors told Prosper, “The law currently provides employers with significant discretion when deciding on their policy on tattoos in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010, which protects employees from discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic, does not protect people who display tattoos. 

“Nevertheless, employers should be wary where an employee could demonstrate that their tattoo is connected to their religion or belief, as they could argue that the policy is discriminatory. Employees could also challenge an employer’s policies if they believe they breach their human rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and/or expression. 

“For this reason, ACAS advises that any policy on tattoos should be included in a dress code which is ‘communicated to all staff so they understand what standards are expected from them and that employers have ‘proportionate and legitimate’ reasons to justify any restrictions.”

Higgs & Sons HR Director, Sophie Wardell added, “Within the legal industry, never before has so much emphasis been placed upon mental health and wellbeing. It is easy to view both through the lens of diagnosing and providing support to individuals rather than considering root causes and operating from the basic premise that enabling people to be themselves at work, to feel accepted and safe, will help create an environment which promotes positive mental health.

 

“I would challenge the requirement for dress codes which prescribe what employees should wear and by the same token, query the outmoded view that having a tattoo makes someone unemployable.

 

“I believe that objections to tattoos often stem from an unconscious bias borne from societal preconceptions. The reality is that tattoos are often a means of expression, a way for someone to show their individualism therefore in the spirit of inclusion, how can it be right to disallow them?”

So, what does the modern research say?

Prosper took a look into the academic research on tattoos and employment from the last few years and came up with some interesting conclusions and stats.

  • 86% of young professionals did not think piercings and tattoos reduce the chance of getting jobs 

  • Grooming and business attire were more important indicators in the hiring decision than tattoos and piercings 

  • Heavily tattooed professionals felt that tattoos made them more accessible to younger co-workers 

However, there were also findings that tattoos still may be limiting in the workplace. Researchers also revealed that:

  • Visible tattoos had a predominantly negative effect on employment selection, driven by the hiring manager’s perception of customer expectations 

  • Tattooed professionals frequently experienced unwanted touching in the workplace 

  • Consumers showed a preference for non-tattooed front-line staff 

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