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Tattoos in the Workplace 

You may have read articles covering Virgin Atlantic’s recent press release, where they have confirmed that they are the first airline in the UK who will be allowing uniformed staff to have visible tattoos on display.  For some, the biggest surprise is that they’re the first UK airline to have done it – after all, Virgin Atlantic are just following on from what many other businesses, including big brands like McDonalds, have already done.  And if you’re a person who has tattoos or doesn’t see a problem with them, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.   

However, there are many businesses that do not, for a variety of reasons, want or allow tattoos to be shown.  So, when you’re considering your company’s stance on this, what do you need to think about? 

Consider your audience 

The decision you make will be partly based on the culture of your business, the industry you work in, and the type of clients you want to attract.  There are people who view tattoos negatively, and, in a customer facing organisation, there may be a fear that those views will impact whether clients will use your business.   On the other hand, having employees that can relate to your clients is useful – to use an extreme example, it would seem a little odd if you went to a tattoo parlour and no one working there was allowed to have a tattoo! 

Virgin Atlantic have stated that they want their employees to celebrate individuality and to feel like they can bring their true self into work.  This fits with their stated cultural values and how they want to treat their employees, and, as we move towards making workplaces more inclusive, a more diverse workforce is likely to include individuals with body art. 

As well as considering whether you’re making helping your organisation celebrate individuality, having a very strict tattoo policy may mean that your business will miss out on a pool of talent.  In fact, research from YouGov shows that one in five people in the UK have at least one tattoo, with that number rising to 1 in 3 when it comes to young people so it’s vital to consider who you want to attract to your workforce and whether your policy helps or hinders that. 

What does the law say? 

Currently, there are no employment laws specifically about tattoos so the decision on what to do generally lies with the employer.  However, under the Equality Act 2010, dismissing an employee for having a tattoo which is specifically linked to a religious or cultural reason, would be an unlawful dismissal.   

An employee may argue that only an unreasonable employer would dismiss someone for having a tattoo, so an employee with over two years of service may try to claim unfair dismissal if their employment is terminated after they get a tattoo.   

Make the rules clear! 

To give everyone clarity, if you have a specific tattoo policy in mind, it needs to be clearly written down in something like a dress code policy.  This policy should outline the company’s stance on tattoos and any potential consequences, up to and including dismissal, which may result if an employee chooses to get one after employment. 

When creating/updating your policy, it’s important to be clear on why you have come to certain decisions on allowing tattoos.  This will help you clarify if your decision is based on your own personal preference or the actual needs of the business and help you to makes decisions that are clear, reasonable, and justifiable.  Taking the time to consult with employees on the proposed policy will allow you to find out how they would view any changes and what potential issues a change in policy might result in. 

Your policy will need to clearly outline whether there are any boundaries in what tattoos you allow.  For example, are you comfortable with people having visible tattoos anywhere or do you want your policy to dictate that they won’t be allowed on an employee’s face, neck or hands?  Will you require employees to cover up tattoos when on client visits?  Are all tattoos allowed or do you want to put rules in place which ban bad language, nudes or potentially offensive images?  

Once you’ve put those rules in place, it’s important to show consistency in how they are applied.  It would not be deemed to be fair if one employee was allowed a tattoo but another was dismissed just because you didn’t like the inking that they’d chosen, so make sure you don’t give rise to a potential discrimination claim when managing a situation where an employee has got a tattoo.  Line managers will need training on how to manage any issues that come up so you will also need to put time into getting them, and keeping them, up to date on what your policy is. 

Ultimately, times are changing and it’s always good to re-evaluate your culture, your ways and your policies. After all, we are all different with different interests and ways of expressing ourselves, so we hope that a happy medium can be achieved in businesses to create an inclusive environment for all.  If you would benefit from assistance in created the right policies for your business, please contact View HR for further information