Tattoos – LOVE OR HATE

The Law Surrounding Construction Employees With Tattoos   Tattoos have seen a massive surge in popularity in recent decades.  Gone is the notion that only criminals and sailors have tattoos, and figures published a few years ago in 2015 suggested that 1 in 5 people in the UK has a tattoo, with numbers predicted to rise.  So where does that leave employers?  Do you have to employ someone who has a tattoo if you don’t want to and what can you do if you discover an existing employee has been to get a tattoo over the weekend?   The Legal Standpoint   Currently, as the law stands, the rules are pretty ambiguous on both sides.  From an employees standpoint, being discriminated against because the employer doesn’t approve of your tattoo is actually not a crime.  There is very little you can do about not being employed because you have tattoos unless you are being discriminated against on the grounds of your beliefs or religion. Many employees find this harsh but that is the current standpoint, so it is up to the individual if they choose to ink their bodies. From an employer’s point of view, you can simply discount a potential candidate because if they have a tattoo, but is that wise?   Generally Speaking   While there are some employers that simply do not tolerate tattoos the more logical standpoint is to consider what you are potentially throwing away.  Does a tattoo impact on the person’s ability to do the job?  The likely answer is no.  In many cases most people can dress in such a way that tattoos are covered and you wouldn’t even know they were there.  Having a carte-blanche anti-tattoo policy is likely to prevent you from employing some jolly talented workers.   Do you have the right to ask for reasonable presentation? Absolutely   One thing that tends to be accepted both with workers and bosses across all industries are the head and face tattoos. These are a bit of a no-go area and to be fair most people do not choose these body parts as a tattoo location.   In an office, a manager could essentially be required to have a formal dress code which would by default cover all tattoos unless they were found on the hands and feet.  On a construction site, high visibility gear may well cover most tattoos but is it so bad if your employees are showing a tattoo because it is 31 degrees and you have allowed shorts on site for example?   Is it Offensive?   The bottom line is flowers, tribal patterns, animals and even some wording is perfectly acceptable and not set to cause offence.  Clearly tattoos that can be contrived as unsuitable, of an adult nature, racist, offensive or rude are not part of an image you would want to project as a company and without doubt, you can choose not to employ people who have such tattoos.   If you discover an existing employee has such a tattoo and is now wanting to have it uncovered in the workplace you would also have grounds for recourse.  Of course, some people have a particular dislike of tattoos and if you find them generally unprofessional, you could choose not to hire someone.  Many existing employees may well have tattoos on areas of the body that are never exposed in work and therefore the employer will never even know they are present, in which case it can be further evidenced that there is no impact on their work.   What Do Others Do?   Because all employers can set their own rules when it comes to staff tattoos the rules do vary, but organisations like the Fire Service and Police do permit their employees to have tattoos, provided they are tasteful, not offensive and again, do not adorn the face or head.   Facial tattoos seem to be associated with an intimidating persona which apparently is not an image such organisations want the public to see as they are there to assist and be trusted by the public.   Police officers have been seen on the beat in summer with tattoos visible under short sleeved shirts and again this undoubtedly does not impact on their ability to work.   Although tattoos are associated with the Navy, the Army also adopted a similar policy.  Recruits are advised to show pictures of tattoos when signing up and again face or head tattoos are prohibited. With these precedents in mind, it is fair to say that on a construction site there would be little cause for concern if the above criteria are met and to be fair, health and safety rules surrounding clothing may well mean most tattoos are covered.  In offices again, it would be reasonable to ask staff to dress in such a way as to hide their tattoos, but if the office does not have a public facing function other than by phone or email, would there be a need to insist on this?   The Bottom Line   The bottom line is that employees do have a responsibility to ensure they are suitably presented for work and employers should logically be careful not to discriminate by not hiring staff solely on the basis they have body art or tattoos, when they may be the most suitable and qualified candidate for the job.   Common sense would be the best guide and policies can be put in place that ensures all employees understand the company reasoning.  If an employee comes into the office one morning with a face tattoo – this would be a clear breach in policy and following protocol grounds for dismissal.   If you have a particular dislike or feel hand tattoos are also promoting a reduced image, then you can choose to exclude potential candidates on these grounds.   However, most people simply have tattoos with no desire to cause offence or fuss and as such, there is no reason for construction employers to not respect this.  In return, employees should accept reasonable requests to keep tattoos covered when needed.

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Simon Wilkins

Simon Wilkins

The Headhunter

07554 234 567