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Visible tattoos in the workplace, time for a rethink?

Research published recently by Acas shows that many employers may be out of touch with changing public attitudes to visible tattoos and body piercings.

Around one in five people in Britain have a tattoo, rising to one in three young people and one in ten have body piercings other than in their earlobes. Both of these trends are predicted to keep rising. Many employers however still have negative attitudes towards them during the recruitment process and in their workplace policies towards hiding or removing them. According to the Acas research, there is often cited the perception that clients and customers will not have confidence in the professionalism of a person in the workplace with a visible tattoo.

So how should employers deal with these and wider dress code policy implementation in the workplace?

Businesses are within the law to have in place rules for an employees’ appearance in the workplace, but they should also consider whether they are limiting their business’ growth and potential. With so many younger people now having both tattoos and body piercings for example, an employer may be restricting themselves by not recruiting talented workers of the future, just because of their appearance.

The amount of detail that as an employer you include in a dress code, is likely to depend very much on the nature of the business and the extent to which there may be health and safety hazards in the work.  Employers who require their staff to wear a uniform, may need to consider issues relating to the image that employees present to their customers.

The key issue for employers is to keep potential issues of discrimination in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation in mind when formulating a dress code. 

Where policies also contain reference to tattoos and body piercings, there should be a sound business reason for asking any employee to cover a tattoo or remove a piercing.  Much will hinge on the industry you work in and the clientele you are seeking to interact with.

It may be wise to consult with your employees over any proposed new dress code or changes to an existing one, to ensure that the code is acceptable to them and therefore more easy for you the employer to enforce.

Amanda Finn can be contacted at