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Tattoos in the Workplace: Considerations and Policies

As tattoos become more mainstream, you may find yourself wondering if tattooed employees are a good fit for your company. Many employers allow visible tattoos in the workplace, and workers with body art are no longer limited to warehouse or construction gigs. Back in 2013, Theresa Vail made headlines when she became the first Miss America contestant with visible tattoos. NASA astronaut Pete Conrad sported a NAVY anchor on his wrist, and Greg Onofrio was heavily tattooed on both arms when he worked as a Houston news anchor.

If you decide you’re okay with tattoos at work, consider implementing a tattoo policy. A detailed, ethical business policy helps prevent potential problems, such as complaints about offensive images or discrimination. Establishing tattoo guidelines rather than completely banning workplace tattoos also shows that you value individuality, which may improve employee morale. Learn more about tattoos in the workplace below so your company can handle body art appropriately.

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Are workplace tattoos acceptable?

Tattoos are generally accepted in the workplace as long as they’re not offensive, unprofessional or distracting. In fact, nearly 3 out of 4 employers say they don’t mind hiring tattooed workers.

However, visible tattoos are not appropriate for every profession and may not match your company’s vision. Even if your company gives the green light on body art, you may find that customers or coworkers discriminate against tattooed employees.

Workers may avoid body art even if it’s not banned because they fear harassment or feel like they won’t fit in at their job. That may explain why less than 10% of government employees have tattoos or piercings despite ink-friendly leniency in workplace policies.

Can professionals have tattoos?

Tattoos are acceptable in many professional settings, including some positions in the medical and legal fields. As the stigma surrounding body art fades, you may notice more professionals with tattoos. These days, it’s not uncommon to see tattooed lawyers, nurses, doctors and teachers. Workers in leadership roles, such as supervisors and owner-operators, may also have tattoos.

Tattoos are even appropriate in some high-end establishments, though these workplaces often prohibit certain types of body art. For example, a tiny cross might be acceptable on your wrist or ankle, but the same symbol might be banned if it appears on your face or neck. It may seem unfair, but customers often have a specific idea of how workers should look in an upscale establishment. Failing to uphold these standards can result in profit loss for a business.

What are the pros and cons of allowing tattoos in the workplace?

You may be torn on whether your company should allow tattoos at work. Every business has its own company culture, so evaluate the potential pros and cons of hiring professionals with tattoos before you decide.

Pros

  • Encourages individuality
  • May boost employee morale
  • Projects a modern, open-minded company image rather than a stuffy or uptight one
  • Opens up your hiring pool, potentially helping you find more qualified candidates
  • Shows employees that you value skills and credentials more than appearance

Cons

  • Some stigma still exists when it comes to professionals with tattoos
  • Tattooed workers may face discrimination from colleagues and clients
  • Allowing tattoos may encourage employees to demand other modes of self expression that your company doesn’t permit, such as piercings and colorful hair

If you decide tattoos in the workplace are acceptable, consider implementing some guidelines first.

Should you implement a tattoo policy?

Tattoo policies aren’t mandatory, and you may not feel your company needs one. For example, a family-owned business with a handful of workers can probably function without a set policy. Also, a tattoo policy might not be necessary if your team members are on the same page about body art or your customers are fairly laid-back.

Your company may benefit from a tattoo policy if you project an upscale, elegant or classic image. For example, a high-end retailer or luxury hotel may ban visible tattoos or body art that covers a large portion of the skin. You may also want to ban tattoos if you hire models, actresses or brand ambassadors for conservative companies.

A tattoo policy is also helpful if you suspect issues may arise with body art leniency. You might initially allow tattoos and then discover an employee has scantily-clad women on their arm or profanity on their neck. This can create problems with customers as well as coworkers, so it’s important to specify which tattoos you allow.

Information to include in workplace tattoo policies

As an employer, you have the legal right to establish policies regarding personal appearance. However, you must be careful not to discriminate against workers or violate any religious rights.

Your tattoo policy should cover anything that may impact the comfort or performance of other employees. You should also consider how customers might feel about tattooed workers at your business.

Here are four topics you should consider addressing in your workplace tattoo policy.

1. Visible tattoos

Are all tattoos allowed, or are you only okay with ones that aren’t visible? And if you do allow visible tattoos, can employees get them on any body part?

Some employers ban tattoos on the face or neck but are okay with other visible ink. If your employees spend the majority of each day behind a desk, you may be okay with tattoos on the legs and feet but not the upper body.

2. Offensive tattoos

Be careful which tattoos your workplace permits, as some body art may make others feel uncomfortable. Ideally, your tattoo policy should ban images or words that promote illegal activities, hate speech or violence.

Here are some examples of potentially offensive body art:

  • Tattoos that bash a specific religion, race or gender
  • Tattoos with profanity or controversial phrases
  • Tattoos that bash or mock your company’s values
  • Tattoos of political figures
  • Tattoos of weapons or threats of physical or emotional harm
  • Tattoos of nudity or sexual innuendos
  • Tattoos that promote drug or alcohol use

Think about anything that might upset employees and customers, and considering adding it to the list.

3. Multiple tattoos

Think about how many tattoos are acceptable for your employees. You might be okay with a few tattoos but draw the line at full sleeves.

If you decide to set a limit, that doesn’t mean you can’t hire employees that exceed the number of accepted tattoos. Your guidelines may state that workers can cover excessive tattoos with scarves, jackets or cosmetics.

4. Employees who can have tattoos

Can every employee have visible tattoos, or is body art only acceptable for employees who don’t deal directly with customers? A policy that has different guidelines for each job position isn’t ideal, but some employers adopt a policy of this nature.

You might be okay with visible tattoos in the stockroom or warehouse but prefer that other workers, such as your receptionist or sales staff, abstain from body art. However, proceed with caution with a policy of this nature. It may cause resentment among coworkers.

There’s no one-size-fits-all policy for tattoos in the workplace. Consider the brand image and corporate culture of your business, and create guidelines that reflect your company’s identity.

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