Tattoo or taboo?

Hattie / 22nd Sep, 2016 / News

Where are you on tattoos? Do you proudly display your completed sleeve? Have you got a cheeky tat somewhere discreet as a result of a bet, love affair or a hazy moment while on holiday in Magaluf? Or, do you think tattoos are just a no-no at every level?

The team in the Uni’s not for me office wanted to get under the skin of the debate so to speak – and what’s clear is that tattoos is not a subject on which someone has no opinion.

The reason for our debate is the publication of a new report from the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service (ACAS). It says that employers could be missing out on top staff because they are rejecting candidates with tattoos. “Negative attitudes about visible tattoos are outdated and employers could be drastically reducing the pool of potential recruits because so many young people now have tattoos.” It also added that employers should think about relaxing dress codes in general.

ACAS is a well respected organisation which is well placed to undertake this sort of research. Given the row that erupted in May this year when temporary worker, Nicola Thorp, was sent home for not wearing high heeled shoes, their guidance for employers and employees on workplace dress codes is as timely as it is necessary.

The report also includes a poll of 16-24 year olds which suggests that nearly a third of this age group now has a tattoo. This is worrying because if tats really are taboo, that’s nearly a third of the workforce who are going to be barred from large sections of employment.

As with all slightly sensationalist headlines, we’re left asking more questions than they’ve answered – so we’ve been doing a bit of research of our own.

The unanimous verdict in the Uni’s not for me (unscientific) poll was that having a tattoo shouldn’t prevent someone from having a job as such – but it really depends what job you’re talking about and where you’ve got your tat.


Banning conspicuous ink on the face of a police officer was deemed reasonable on the basis that they (the police officer) wouldn’t be taken seriously. The same thing for doctors and medical staff. It’s interesting that both these groups have recently come under dress code scrutiny in relation to the burqa, the full, face-covering veil.  And then there’s piercings. Don’t get us started on that.

You begin to see that work place dress code opens up a whole range of contentious and sensitive issues.

So what does the ACAS guidance propose? Well, it all seems very sensible. Employers have the right to have a dress code that reflects their organisation – or in some cases, they can insist on a particular way of dressing for health or safety.

They key thing is that employers cannot have dress codes that discriminates in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. So, for example, Heel-gate raised the issue of gender discrimination.

Uni’s not for me advice is to have a look at the ACAS site but also make sure you know what your employer, current or potential, expects of you. You might also want to remove nose and lip piercings for a first time meeting – or until you know what the policy is.

Anyway, there is light at the end of the tunnel. If, the ACAS report statistics are accurate and a third of 16-24 year olds are now tattooed, in a relatively short time, they will become the third of the 26-34 year old population. They’re going to be the employers of the future and you might find that NOT having a tat counts against you.

What’s your experience? Have you been subject to discrimination on the grounds of your piercing or tattoo? Let us know.


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