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Should Tattoos Be Allowed at Work?

Lynsey has amassed a collection of tattoos and piercings over the last decade. Her body modification tips are based on personal experience.

Banker? Or Zoo Assistant?

Banker? Or Zoo Assistant?

Should Tattoos Be Allowed in the Workplace?

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 itself 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.

Insurance Rep? Or Tattooist?

Insurance Rep? Or Tattooist?

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 the 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. This 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 isn'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 for 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


Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on September 17, 2017:

Interesting read. In India, many people used to tatoo their fathers or mother's names. Now a day's the much eloberate ones have become popular among the young. Tattoos here haven't yet become a taboo in many professions.

- hari

Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on October 26, 2016:

Surely a tribal design or flower couldn't offend even the most offendable people. You are entitled to your opinion, but I would have to say that such a level of fear of offending would border on being plain and boring. If you want to get technical, an ankle can offend in some places, but it does not mean I will keep mine covered! And if someone thinks that such an inoffensive design is offensive in the first place, my first reaction would be to ask them if they know what century they are living in!

As long as it isn't offensive to the mass population of any given business/ country, there really shouldn't be an issue.

Even police are allowed tattoos nowadays in order to be more approachable to the general public.

Jay on October 26, 2016:

Sorry. Going to have to disagree. I have to side with the blanket policy because, unless you can come up with a completely objective criteria by which you can measure a tattoo's level of offensiveness (which is downright impossible). There are all sorts of different people and cultures in the world, and you NEVER know what might be considered offensive to someone. For example, a Buddhist tattoo might be completely offensive to a Rakhine Muslim of Myanmar, as they currently are under harsh prejudice and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Myanmar Buddhists. Buddhism, a spirituality/religion that many people consider a rather peaceful religion, is even capable of offending people, so what else is there that we aren't aware of? So, we attempt to cater to the entirety of the masses with a blanket policy. Because, after all, who is the judge of whether something is offensive but the person who perceives that thing in question?

Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on October 22, 2013:

Yeah, Iv actually just got a new job- its in a call centre- and I can show my piercings and tattoos there! Im in heaven!!!! Thanks for the comment x

freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on October 22, 2013:

When I worked as a telemarketer I noticed there were a lot of people there with tattoos !

Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on September 11, 2013:

Very true, Zoe, but unfortunately that's just the way society is. That's why i try to see it from both sides. But, as a tattood person myself, I don't think its the right way to be. In today's world, there should definitely be more freedom around the subject!

Zoe on September 11, 2013:

i believe that having tattoo and/or piercings should be aloud in a workplace unless its working with food, then piercings would be out of the question, tattoos to some people have meaning for someone or something special. having offensive tattoos then yeah they should be covered. i have several tattoos when im at work i always get good comments even from older ladies or men in their 60+ years. People shouldn't judge on others looks.

Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on December 30, 2012:

Thanks MOM, I appreciate your time and input.

Man from Modesto from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California) on December 30, 2012:

To be honest, MOST people are severely put off by ANY tattoos. A young man at a local church needed a new shirt for his job at Pizza Hut. It had to be long-sleeved to cover his forearm tattoo. Corporate rules.

They do that because many, many people are offended by tattoos.

I have hired many people over the years. I hire on just ONE main principle: If I immediately like the person, I hire them and they work out great. If I immediately do not like the person, I don't hire them. Work experience, education... they don't matter. What matters is a cohesive team which can work together; a strong and productive environment produces a good business.

Tattoos or no tattoos, it never made a difference. However, my clients didn't care, either. I owned coffee shops in Philadelphia, near the art and student scenes.

Interesting article, voted so.

Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on November 22, 2012:

Yeah, but I used him as an example of the extreme. I also spoke about those with offensive tattoos. I can understand why that would put people off, but surely not decent tattoos?

William E Krill Jr from Hollidaysburg, PA on November 22, 2012:

Maybe so, tattoo prejudice, but looking at the pic at the top of your article, one would legitimately surmise that there is something profoundly...disturbed....with the individual who would go to such lengths at body alteration.

Lynsey Hart (author) from Lanarkshire on November 22, 2012:

Thanks! There are so many people who think your a bad person because of body art, you're right. It's shocking! Thanks for the comment! :)

Randi Benlulu from Mesa, AZ on November 21, 2012:

Society is pretty darn funny, isn't it? About 5 years ago, the doctor I was working with was missing something from her office. Her immediate reponse was to assume that the girl with the piercings and tattoos was the culprit. My opinion of that doctor dropped considerably that day but sadly, she wasn't alone. People tend to judge. I admire and respect your willingness to cover your tattoos while at work. An employer couldn't and shouldn't ask for more than that! Great hub! Up, useful and interesting!