Are tattoos creating problems in the workplace?

As a generation attempting to fix decades of stereotypes rises, tattoos have become more and more the rage. However, many work environments continue to judge people’s character based on the art they adorn, but should they? 

According to a 2021 Statista survey of over 1,000 Americans over the age of 18, around 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo. With such a large percentage of the American workforce having tattoos, how should they be “regulated” in the workplace?

Like haircuts, clothing or jewelry, tattoos are a part of an employee’s personal appearance, an aspect of personal privacy protected loosely through the law. 

“Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

While tattoos may not seem to fall under these categories, there are specific cases in which they would. For example, a case where an employer asks an employee to cover their religious tattoo could be seen as an employer discriminating against someone’s religious freedom. Additionally, if an employer asked a female employee to cover their tattoos, but not a male, this could be considered discriminatory as well. While unique cases do occur, there are no specific laws in which tattoos are directly addressed in relation to workplaces.

However, companies may take the liberty to implement dress code policies or rules against tattoos. Many companies state professionalism, health, and safety concerns as their main argument behind limiting tattoos to non-visible tattoos or banning them all together. 

“I think most tattoos are professional, but there are limits,” senior Noah Jenkins said. “I might get alarmed if a surgeon or lawyer walks in with a face tattoo, but at the end of the day it’s not my body.”

While the unprofessional or professional “feel” of tattoos is subject to a person’s own opinion, the art a person chooses to put on their body should be their choice alone. Whether a person has tattoos or does not, will not play a role in their job ability. A person’s work ethic is decided by the actions they show while on the job, not the body modifications they choose to get off-the-clock. 

“In our society, people will always be judged based on appearance,” Principal Lee Krueger said. “A visible tattoo will cause you to be judged whether right or wrong.”

In cases of the military, government positions or healthcare, a hesitation to tattoos may be reasonable, but still does not lend itself to a ban of tattoos altogether. A concern of military or government personnel could be safety regarding easy-to-identify tattoos. In this case, clear guidelines are made before candidates enlist, with most candidates understanding how their body art may affect their opportunities. In healthcare, concerns arise relating to open wounds from fresh tattoos. However, proper tattoo care contains covering the tattoo until it is properly healed and can be exposed to outside factors. 

Ultimately, it should be the employee’s decision whether they get a tattoo, but if a company does not want this, clear dress codes should be provided. With set expectations, disagreements between companies and employees may become limited. This leaves any discrimination or prejudice off the table as both parties know what to expect. 

With that said, while there may be no legal requirements to not have tattoos, an awareness of the current stereotypes should be held. Societal norms are still present and having tattoos can come with judgy looks and discriminatory actions.