One in five people in the UK has tattoos according to research carried out by the British Association of Dermatologists in 2012. With the popularity of tattoos further increasing since then (the number of television shows and online groups are a good indication of this) this statistic is likely to be even higher now, in 2016.
Despite their popularity, restrictions against having tattoos in the workplace are extremely common in the UK. The Metropolitan Police for example, will not employ people with facial tattoos, hand tattoos; tattoos above the collar line or any that can be perceived as being “discriminatory, violent or intimidating.”
Is this legal?
Yes, this is all completely legal. In fact, it is also legal to refuse to take on an employee if they have tattoos and similarly, it is legal to dismiss a current employee if they decide to get a tattoo after being employed.
How is it legal?
The Equality Act 2010, which is the Act that most discrimination cases relies upon, excludes tattoos on the basis that they are not ‘severe disfigurements’ and so cannot be defined as a disability. However, a potential way to claim under this Act would be if an employee can prove that their tattoo is connected with their religious beliefs. This means that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a ‘no tattoos in the workplace’ policy may lead to an employee claiming against an employer for indirect religious discrimination.
Where can employers include policies about tattoos?
If an employer wishes to pose restrictions on employees with tattoos, they should include these within employees’ employment contracts and its staff handbooks. A common area to include reference to tattoos is in a dress code or standards of appearance policy.
Why don’t employers like hiring people with tattoos?
Not all employers are against tattoos (many will have them themselves!) but a report published by the British Sociological Association found that many of the managers interviewed felt that there was a stigma attached to people with tattoos. Words such as ‘repugnant’ and ‘unsavoury’ were used to describe how customers/clients may feel about dealing with employees with tattoos.
Attitudes on employees with tattoos vary across the world
Tattoos are widely associated with organised crime in Japan and so many workplaces ban them altogether. In comparison, an article by Forbes displays a positive attitude to the individualism represented by having tattoos, which it says is more commonplace in corporate environments. Illustrating this point within the article, Bank of America spokeswoman Ferris Morrison says: “We have no formal policy about tattoos because we value our differences and recognise that diversity and inclusion are good for our business and make our company stronger.”
Questions about tattoos in the workplace
If you have any questions about tattoos in the workplace, please feel free to contact me for a no obligation legal assessment, at our expense, over the telephone.