Employment law on tattoos in the workplace

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Despite the rise in popularity of tattoos in recent years, many employers still consider them to be unacceptable in the workplace.

According to an Acas commissioned study in 2016, a large proportion of the 33 anonymously interviewed individuals, ranging from a senior manager in the emergency services to a regional director of an accounting firm, said that they would be hesitant in hiring applicants with visible tattoos.

This is potentially quite alarming for employees as according to a recent YouGov survey, 30% of UK adults aged 25-39 have tattoos and considering that body art has become increasingly more of a trend over the last few years, it is likely that this percentage will rise, especially within the younger generations of workers.

So, it is clear that some employers have negative opinions on body art, but what is the legal standpoint on tattoos in the workplace?

Apart from religious markings, body art is not considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, therefore employers are free to base their hiring decisions on this aspect alone.

Furthermore, in certain circumstances and where there are no contentious issues to consider (as well taking into account an employees’ length of service), employers could consider visible body art as a valid reason to dismiss existing employees, especially if they are frequently dealing with clients and customers.

Stephen Williams, Acas Head of Equality, states:

“Businesses are perfectly within their right to have rules around appearance at work but these rules should be based on the law where appropriate, and the needs of the business, not managers’ personal preferences.

Therefore, whilst it is understandable that some companies will want to encourage a professional image through their workforce, employers that adopt an unreasonably strict policy on visible tattoos and body art are at risk of losing out on a significant number of skilled workers.

While turning up to work or a job interview with an offensive facial tattoo would be rightfully frowned upon, and may hinder ones’ chances of retaining or getting a job. Perhaps taking a more lenient approach to visible tattoos and body art in general would be beneficial for businesses, and young aspiring professionals alike.

It also important to remember that when drafting or updating a dress code, that it is not discriminatory in terms of sex, age, disability, sexual orientation etc.

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