Tattoo Discrimination: Is It a Growing HR Issue?

Tattoo Discrimination: Is It a Growing HR Issue?

Like it or not, the tattoo is an established part of contemporary culture.

It is estimated that one in five adults in the UK have a tattoo. This becomes one in three of young adults. As tattoos have grown in popularity, so they have also become more visible, in and out of the workplace.

Where once, for example, the full sleeve tattoo was the often seen as a mark of otherness, now you’re more than likely to see it when your barista serves you a morning latte.

McDonald’s and That Tattoo

The McDonald’s advert, below, capitalises on the workplace tattoo as a kind of symbol for its “bolder” selection of wraps. So how accepted, or acceptable, are visible tattoos in the workplace?

Alternative lifestyle proponent, King Of Ink Land, is quick to point out that acceptability is far from being taken for granted, “The thing that stops people from gaining employment are individuals who live in the past, red-tape policies that will get people entangled in court one day. I’m sure we are not far off a test case in this country.”

For some organisations, tattoos are a mark of visible diversity, but for others the whole issue of workplace appearance is a minefield.

King Of Ink Land is not alone in seeking to outlaw tattoo discrimination under employment law. He has met with Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills, to discuss the issue. There are a host of news stories about employees being dismissed for bearing visible tattoos in the workplace. The difficulty arises when it comes to applying any kind of consistency.

Body art is an asset in some industries, hence the McDonald’s ad. In many others, it brings up negative assumptions and stigmas, and raises employers’ concerns about their public image should they employ visibly tattooed staff.

Many employers set rules over employees’ body art, hair and piercings but increasingly this comes with risks. Dress codes are often contentious, and taking disciplinary action over them can result in unforeseen publicity. If, as King Of Ink Land suggests, we’re not far off a test case in the courts, then this will heighten both employers’ and employees’ awareness and concerns.

What sort of resolution might come remains to be seen, but it’s very much a current, and growing, issue.


HR Aspects Magazine would like to thank King of Ink Land for his contribution to this article. If you would like to find out more about him, please visit his website.