A step tat-too far?

It seems that the ongoing debate over whether or not tattoos are acceptable to display in the work place is still continuing.  A Change.org petition started at the end of February that called for the end of employment discrimination against tattoos, piercings and hair colour has now reached almost five thousand supporters.

As things stand right now anyone can be denied or dismissed from a job because they have a tattoo as there is no specific protection under current employment law for people who have them.

However, legislation may have to change in order to keep up with society and the increasing number of people with tattoos.  According to the British Association of Dermatologists is 2012, one in five people in the UK have a tattoo, and that grows to one in three amongst young adults.   Every estimate says that this will increase and that leaves a large portion of the work force that aren’t protected by law.

Despite many celebrities and sport stars having tattoos, employers generally are not so keen on them being visible although this obviously varies depending on what sector of our economy you work in.  A report in 2013 found that managers expressed negative views about the image projected by notably tattooed staff, and this is certainly the case in “traditional” professions.

There are many companies who have implemented a ‘no visible ink’ policy, which means in essence that as long as that tattoo can be covered or hidden with clothing, then it is fine.

Increasingly though, more and more people are being tattooed on their necks, hands and faces, which obviously aren’t as practical to cover in the workplace. The Metropolitan Police bans them on the face, hands and above the collar line, as well as any which are “discriminatory, violent or intimidating”, which is quite understandable given what they face on a daily basis.

In the longer term though, attitudes of employers may need to change or they run the risk of missing out on key talent for their workforce.   As a higher and higher percentage of the workforce have tattoos, will employers, especially those seeking specialist skills, be able to afford to turn away qualified and experienced staff because of their body art?  That is even more so the case in competitive industries where talent is more scarce and your rivals are welcoming them with open arms.

The British Army have faced a recruitment shortfall in the last few years, and they are now said to be considering relaxing its rules to allow ‘visible ink’ in a bid to attract more applicants.  If institutions that old are reconsidering their positions, then perhaps other professions should be as well.

When thinking about getting a tattoo, you should consider how it will affect your individual job and career prospects, and that not everybody out there will be as keen on your body art as you are.  Conversely, employers who don’t consider applicant with body art may need to start rethinking their attitudes unless they want to run the risk of restricting their access to the work force and skills out there.  Time will tell.

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