Air New Zealand recently dropped its tattoo ban in an effort to increase diversity amongst its staff. Are perceptions of tattoos beginning to change? It is estimated that around 30% of British people between 25 and 39 have tattoos. Despite this, there is still a social stigma attached to them and the majority of employers would hesitate to hire an applicant with visible tattoos.
Employers are free to impose uniforms or dress codes in an effort to maintain a corporate image. In doing so, many organisations choose to impose a requirement for employees to cover up visible tattoos. It is advisable for any dress code to be set out in a clear policy and made available to all employees. Any policy should apply fairly and consistently and be reasonable and justifiable. Consultation with employees is always advised.
The Equality Act 2010 does not protect employees with tattoos who have been treated less favourably. However, an employee may have a discrimination claim if the tattoo is an integral part of their belief system or cultural identity. Claims may also be brought on human rights grounds.
Additionally, if an employee with 2 years’ service is dismissed for having a tattoo they could bring a claim for unfair dismissal on the basis that the dismissal was beyond “the range of reasonable responses” of an employer.
The Metropolitan police previously had a blanket ban on visible tattoos but changed its stance in 2018. It will now consider applicants with visible tattoos on a “case by case basis”. This is a welcomed approach as it ensures that applicants are not barred from certain jobs and employers are not unnecessarily reducing the talent pool. It is likely that the employers will begin to exercise more discretion and make a judgment call on what tattoos are “tasteful” enough to be displayed at work.