Should Tattoos Be Allowed at Work?
As a self-confessed tattoo addict, I have often been aware of the possible consequences of having such a collection. I know that tattoos are permanent, and they are not to everyone's taste, but that shouldn't affect my ability to do certain things, right?
I know that in the past, tattoos in western countries were uncommon, except among sailors, circus sideshows, and prostitutes (or "ladies of the night"). Because of that, the idea was formed that any female with a tattoo was a freak or a whore. I'd like to think that nowadays the stigma is gone and that people can accept our freedom to express ourselves.
Discrimination Against Tattoos Still Exists
Unfortunately, discrimination against tattoos still exists, despite their growth in popularity! I have had many jobs over the years where tattoos had to be covered at all times—even on dress-down days. And I can tell you, wearing a jumper in the middle of summer for a 12-hour shift isn't pretty!
I am also saddened to say that I have been overlooked for positions, despite being well-qualified and experienced, and I can only think that the tattoos were an issue, despite my willingness to cover them. My tattoos do not affect my brain function, nor do they alter my character in any way.
Tattoos and Company Standards
On the other hand, I can understand that a company would like to project themselves as being professional. So, perhaps some badly designed ink could detract from that. But at the same time, as long as my tattoos are not offensive, why should I have to endure the torture of a clammy jumper on a hot day? Especially in a call centre, where no-one from your client base will see you!?
Some Tattoos Can Make You Unemployable
I totally understand why some people's choice of tattoos can make them somewhat unemployable, or at least limit their chances. For example, Dennis Avner, the "Catman" from Nevada (see top photo), might look out of place serving in a bank but would fit in well in a zoo. Lucky Diamond Rich, the most tattooed man in the world (see photo below), might look out of place selling insurance from door to door, but his style works well for a tattooist or in tattoo shows.
Offensive Tattoos Can Be Bad for Business
Those who have Nazi symbols or satanic etchings on their faces can hardly be surprised when they don't pass an interview. Similarly, those with rainbows or stars falling from their eyes. It doesn't look professional to have such people representing a company. As a general rule, I say nothing above the neckline or below the wrists—at least then it can be covered!
These offensive tattoos can also be detrimental to business if potential clients perceive the employee's beliefs to be the same as the employers. I don't think a party planner with a swastika tattoo would go down well in organising a Bar Mitzvah.
Well-Designed Tattoos Are Works of Art
But. When tattoos are well designed and executed, they are pieces of art. I like to think of my own collection of ink as being my little art gallery that shares a bit of a story. They're also a good conversation starter: "Do they hurt," "Do you recommend a particular artist," etc. If anything, a good chat can help business.
This is something that the police force is using to its advantage. The police are now allowed to show forearm tattoos, if they have any, whereas before they had to wear a long sleeve shirt. Why? Because they realise that it makes them appear more human, more reliable, more likeable.
Let's face it, when a police person likes your likes, it means that you have something in common—therefore increasing the chance of you confiding in them. Then again, a police person with a terrorist tattoo would probably have the opposite effect. Which is why judgement is used. There is no blanket ban.
The Problems With Blanket Bans
I can understand why it is easier to have a blanket ban on such things. It's easier to enforce a rule to everyone than risk a lawsuit for discrimination.
However, if my collection of tattoos aren't offensive, then why can't I have them on show? Why should I be overlooked for a job in favour of someone half as qualified? Or even be forced to wear long-sleeved clothing in temperatures where my colleagues are wearing vests?
I am responsible with my choice of tattoos. I choose designs that can't easily offend, and I place them in places that can be covered, if required. They may not be to everyone's taste, but that doesn't mean that they would offend anyone.
Hopes for Tattoo Acceptance in the Future
I would like to think that, in future, there will be a change in employers' attitudes towards tattoos in the workplace and that acceptance will be widespread. Until then, I will have to remain covered in order to remain employed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Lynsey Hart