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Why you May Be Missing Out on Talent If You Stigmatise Tattoos

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Do your staff have tattoos and how do you deal with them?

Recent research published by ACAS has suggested that employees with visible tattoos face discrimination in the work place and in the application process.

It was found that within the application and recruitment process employers are concerned about how visible tattoos will be perceived by customers, but ACAS says firms with negative attitudes towards tattoos may be missing out on young, talented staff as tattoos are currently prevalent amongst a lot of young people.

The research found that having a visible tattoo can decrease an employee’s chances or promotion and can hinder applicants’ job prospects.

The acceptability of tattoos in modern life is often source of debate, particularly in the workplace where the employer might view a tattoo as harmful to the business, but as Susan Mayall, head of employment at Pearson Solicitors said employees may feel discriminated against if this is the case.

Currently employers have discretion when dealing with staff tattoos.

In a customer facing role a visible tattoo is likely to be viewed as a negative factor, especially if it can be perceived as offensive and an employer is entitled to prescribe a minimum standard of dress and appearance for their staff and this can include a requirement to cover up any tattoos,” said Susan.

“If there is a dress code policy in place, its terms should be reasonable and be capable of being justified.  The Equality Act 2010 at present does not specifically protect those with tattoos or body modifications from discrimination” she added.

However, ACAS has warned that by imposing measures such as banning tattoos, employers are risking alienating employees which might result in challenges on the grounds of human rights.

Stephen Williams, the Head of Equality at ACAS said:  "Businesses are perfectly within their right to have rules around appearance at work, but these rules should be based on the law where appropriate, and the needs of the business, not managers’ personal preferences …Almost a third of young people now have tattoos so, whilst it remains a legitimate business decision, a dress code that restricts people with tattoos might mean companies are missing out on talented workers."

In light of the research, ACAS has updated its guidance on dress codes which now includes advice about tattoos and body modifications. The guidance advises employers that they may want to ask employees to remove piercings or cover tattoos whilst at work in order to maintain the image of the organisation; however ACAS emphasise the importance of having a written dress code so that all employees know the expectations of the employer.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

Written by Susan Mayall


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