What is your view on tattoos in the workplace? Attitudes towards tattoos in general have changed dramatically in recent years, and according to a recent survey one in five Britons now has a tattoo, with that number increasing all the time. However, a few employees who have been dismissed as a result of tattoos have recently caught media attention, and people are asking whether workplace policies and the law have kept pace with the changes in society’s views.
Currently there is no legal protection given to workers with tattoos, so employers can lawfully refuse to recruit someone with tattoos. (Obviously it is only the visible tattoos that are relevant, which may depend on what the person wears for work). If someone is tattooed while in employment, and the person has protection against unfair dismissal, then it may be fair for the employer to dismiss. The employer would need to follow a fair process and they could potentially use the argument that the dismissal was because of misconduct (such as breach of a policy requiring no visible tattoos) or ‘some other substantial reason’ (such as concerns about the effect on the employer’s reputation, particularly if the worker is customer-facing).
The only exception might be if a tattoo were linked to a worker’s religion or belief, as this might give them protection against discrimination, but examples of that are likely to be extremely rare. The Equality Act 2010 specifically excludes tattoos and piercings from the definition of body disfigurement as a disability.
Clearly not all tattoos are equal – few employers would want to employ someone with offensive facial tattoos, regardless of the role, but more discreet ink is more likely to be accepted.
As tattoos are becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst younger people, it may be worth some employers reconsidering their stance on tattoos so as to avoid preventing potential talent from applying for work. We would also expect to see in future an increase in workers arguing that an employer’s reputation is not adversely affected by their tattoos – as society changes, that argument may strengthen, but it may take longer for the law to adapt. Until then, those considering tattoos also need to consider how it might affect their future employment.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).