Piercings and Tattoos – Should You Have to Cover Them For Work?

1 in 3 people young people and 1 in 5 individuals in the UK are inked now. Once tattoos were reserved for soldiers, sailors and bikers now every famous icon is inked and even the prime minister’s wife has a small dolphin tattoo.  According to Jon Kelly who writes for the BBC, “Tattoos are everywhere. Tattoos are respectable”

Tattoos have been common throughout history, The HuffingtonPost’s research says “Roosevelt had a crest on his chest, Churchill had an anchor on his arm and King George V had a dragon on his arm.”

So if everyone has a tattoo should you have to cover yours up?

I have ten tattoos, my eyebrow pierced and my nose pierced three times. Would I take out my piercings for an interview? No, would I advise that you do, Yes. Despite my own principled stand it is not something I advise you to follow.

As an individual with individual tastes you should be respected. You should be able to express yourself while still retaining an air of professionalism. If you wear a suit why should your tattoos and piercings be a problem? They are part of who you are and not part of your ability to do a job. 

Most people who bear a tattoo or two would argue that they shouldn’t be used to discriminate against you within the hiring process. However, there are currently no labour/discrimination laws that cover tattoo and piercings. So, this means that employers are well within their rights to not hire you because of your tattoo or piercing. Dr Andrew Timming led research at the University of St Andrews and he said, “Most respondents agreed that visible tattoos are a stigma. …'Hiring managers realise that, ultimately, it does not matter what they think of tattoos - what really matters, instead, is how customers might perceive employees with visible tattoos”

Why isn’t this discrimination?

This is because every employer has a right to have a dress code and within that dress code can be the requirement to have no tattoos or piercings visible.  The BBC has reported in 2012 that the Metropolitan Police has banned staff from getting visible tattoos. Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said the body art 'damages the professional image' of police he goes on to say that all staff should register any body art with their line managers. He is well within his rights as the representative of the employer. 

While I valiantly fight for the rights of the tattooed and pierced to be treated no different from those who are not.  I still think that you should cover up if you can.  While I never remove my piercings, I do go to interviews in a suit, which is not only the convention for interviews but it also serves to cover my tattoos.  You may think this is hypocritical of me however I send this warning because the point is, choosing not to hire you because of your tattoos and piercings is not discrimination. 

What have Employers Said to their Employees?

Interviewing a range of people in different professions yielded a mixed bag of results…

Lucy, a healthcare worker, told me “We were told we had to get permission before getting anymore tattoos, we can't have any clothing below the elbow to cover arm tattoos. During training we were asked to stand in front of our manager and she checked our piercings. I had medium sized earrings in she asked if they were tunnels (and said) if so I'd have to buy skin coloured ones, they weren't tunnels, she told me they were too big and my nose stud wasn't allowed. She didn't comment on my tattoo, a lot of my patients have though, no negative comments so far!”

 Chris a prison officer said, “I can have the tattoos I have currently have but I'm not allowed to add more unless I keep them covered.” Dan works for a Pharmaceutical company their dress code states “Nose rings, eyebrow rings and other facial piercings are prohibited, Tattoos should be kept covered and should not be visible” again this is perfectly within their legal rights to have a dress code. 

Kat Marshall said, “When I worked in Morrison’s and a call centre I was told I could not have visible facial piercings but instead had to cover them up with a blue plaster. It was on my bottom lip. And I looked like a joke. When people from other companies came in I looked very unprofessional and I have seen people since in both places with visible lip piercings. It was smarter than the plaster!” 

Giles said, “I’m so lucky to work in a very diverse environment. Being a R&D/academic centric workplace we have an eclectic mix of people, which includes individuals with visible tattoos and piercings. The bottom line for me is; can this person do the job? And will they fit in with the team? If the answer to those questions is yes, then (as long as tattoos, etc. weren't offensive and they don't present a H&S risk (we work with heavy machinery) I would respect that person’s right to do whatever they wanted with their bodies.”

Xander works for a global consultancy company and he says that each country that his business works in has their own policies on tattoos, in Ireland they state, “The Company prides itself on its professionalism. This also relates to each employee's appearance, therefore maintaining a smart appearance is essential…Employees also need to consider the suitability of body jewellery and tattoos.” Whereas their Angola policy is “Jewellery and Tattoos - For females, jewellery should be tasteful and kept to a reasonable limit. Nose rings, eyebrow rings and tattoos on any exposed area of the body are not acceptable, unless their use is determined by cultural or sociologic mandatory requirements or conventions.”

So with no agreement even within one company, what are your options?  

You are, I’m afraid, only left with two choices, either cover up your tattoos and remove your piercings or find an employer who isn’t worried about you having them.  It seems unfair but in the world of work where everyone is competing for jobs, you have to take the steps that will ensure you are selected above other candidates.