Body art can be a divisive subject, particularly when you’re talking about the workplace. Many traditional companies, especially those with an older generations in the executive suite, still enforce anti-tattoo policies. Discrimination against tattoos are protected by law in the Constitution for criminal cases, but they are not protected federally in the workplace.
The bottom line? It’s still legal for companies to not hire or fire someone for their tattoos, or to require all visible tattoos to be covered up during the workday.
Even as recently in 2008, a Harris poll found these anti-tattoo mentalities in the U.S. Polling 2,000 adults, the survey found that 32% of people without tattoos believe that those with tattoos are likely to do something deviant. Those sentiments were echoed for businesses. It’s likely these sentiments come from a traditional idea that tattoos represent the “counterculture.”
Companies see tattooed employees as a liability. If the customer doesn’t trust your employees, you’re sunk.
But that’s back seven years ago. What about today? The tide seems to be shifting toward acceptance. In the past few years, major name companies have pulled back their anti-tattoo policies and openly allowed visible body art, including PetSmart, Bank of America, Olive Garden, and Wyndham Resorts.
Tattoos Are Becoming More Commonplace
As more and more people get inked, anti-body art sentiments are waning. After all, pervasiveness breeds acceptance. An organization to Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work collected data on the state of tattoos on U.S. men and women.
- Tattoo popularity has grown 13% since 2007 (when the first set of data was taken above)
- The number of people with two or more tattoos has doubled since 2007
- Women under 35 are almost 50% more likely to have tattoos than men under 35
- Senior men are 71% more likely to have tattoos than senior women
- The top five most popular locations for tattoos are, in order: lower back, wrist, foot, ankle, armband
As more people start to have tattoos, it will be more and more difficult for companies to enforce an anti-body art policy. Moreover, recruiters and HR could struggle if the best person for the job has a visible wrist, foot, ankle, or armband tattoo — which are four of the five most popular locations.
Who Has Tattoos at Work and Can They Help?
Statistics seem to reinforce stereotypes when it comes to just what industries have the most tattooed employees. According to Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work, the top two job industries with the highest percentage of tattooed staff are:
- The military
But here’s where things can get surprising: their research also found that the occupation with the most lenient tattoo policies is actually the government. However, government employees are some of the least likely to take advantage of these lenient policies, as only 8% of government employees have tattoos or body piercings.
Still, many job industries are furthering acceptance of tattoos, not just in blue-collar jobs, but particularly in the more creative fields as well. Research from Tattooed Lifestyle shows that companies’ polls found consumers to believe staff to be better at their jobs than non-tattooed employees in 48 fields, including:
In these types of industries, tattoos are seen as a visual representation of creativity and art and can showcase to consumers these traits. And in these markets, that creativity and eye for style and design can be just what customers are looking for. It would be wise for companies to not only ditch anti-tattoo policies but openly encourage body art.
Do Tattoos Still Influence Hiring?
As the perceptions of body art change, is it actually changing hiring practices? Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work found these statistics, which seem to show a distance between perception and reality:
- 76% of employees feel tattoos would hurt their job interview chances
- But 73% of people say they would hire staff that had visible tattoos
- And only 6% of tattooed people say they wouldn’t hire someone with visible tattoos
- 4% of tattooed or pierced people say they’ve faced discrimination in their current job
So there are two possibilities: Tattooed job candidates are still facing interview discrimination, even if hiring managers don’t consciously realize it’s happening. Or, the discrimination is waning, but tattooed people are still holding on to some of the past problems.
Discrimination Is Still Happening
Even if the tides are turning in favor of accepting employees with tattoos, a small amount are still feeling discriminated against, according to the above statistics. Recently, the BBC asked tattooed workers to share their stories of the workplace.
From Emily in Washington:
“I was promised a promotion when I turned 18. On my 18th birthday I got a half-sleeve [tattoo] and my boss immediately denied me the promotion he promised me. He didn’t say directly that it was because of my tattoo, but the comments he made toward me made it clear he didn’t like it,” Emily added. “He asked me if I was crazy for getting it and why my parents would let me do this to myself.”
Sam from Australia shared a similar story but was also told to cover up tattoos even outside of working hours.
“I had hours cut after getting my tattoos, even though they aren’t visible. I have both feet done as well, but always wear socks and shoes. I work in childcare and was told that even out in public I had to keep appearances up, so to keep covered, because I might see the children I looked after outside hours.”
Major companies are making strides toward tattoo acceptance, but traditional ideas of body ink are still adding to a negative perspective of tattoos in the workplace. However, this seems to be on the way toward change as more Americans see body art as commonplace and even as a positive for creative fields.
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