In 2011, Forbes magazine asserted that tattoos could have a detrimental effect on a person’s employment prospects. It was a sign of the times when they retracted this assertion just two years later. Employees should not be discriminated against on the basis of their tattoos, for it has no impact on their work performance. Customers may prefer not to be served by front-line staff bearing tattoos. This can be dealt with by covering the artwork if the worker so chooses. This remains the choice of the individual. It is important for society to remember that some people bear tattoos as a cultural rite of passage, such as the Maori people of New Zealand, which again reiterates that a tattooed worker’s appearance should not be a reason for managers of customers to doubt their abilities to perform well on the job.

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Tattoos do not set the standard of the work environment, dictate the quality of work performance, or debase the character of an employee; therefore, they should not be discriminated against in the workplace. In 2011, powerhouse business publication Forbes stated that tattoos had a negative impact on employment (Faw.) They did not, however, offer any opinions regarding the impact that tattoos would have on employee performance in the workplace. Attitudes have clearly shifted in recent years, because in 2013 the same publication recanted their earlier sentiments, stating that tattoos were “no longer the kiss of death in the workplace” (Hennessey.)

The standard of work and the work environment is set by the attitude and actions of both employers and employees in the workplace. If people happen to have tattoos, this should not affect the standard of the work environment in a negative way. This standard is dependent on the person’s personality and work ethic, not how they present themselves at work. Provided that they look neat and tidy, particularly if they are in a customer service role, then most customers accept tattoos in this day and age because they are commonplace. Many young waiting staff at cafes sport colourful tattoos, and it does not impact on their ability to take orders and serve in an efficient and polite manner.

Having ink tattooed on the skin does not prevent an employee from undertaking their work in a satisfactory way, regardless of the nature of their work. If tattoos were so disabling to being a competent worker, then people simply would not get them. A person’s character is not dictated by their personal artistic expressions of freedom. If they were good enough to get the job before they got tattoos, then of course their work ethic will not change after they get them.

A review of relevant literature reveals some important facts which support the argument that tattoos should be acceptable in the workplace.

Research reveals that 86 percent of young professionals do not see tattoos or piercings as preventing a person from gaining or keeping employment (Mishra and Mishra, 2015.) It would seem that business attire and personal presentation are more important to employers when interviewing potential employees (Ruetzler et al, 2012.) Another positive for tattooed staff is that they report feeling that their tattoos make them more likely to find common ground with, and therefore get along with, their younger colleagues (McLeod, 2008.)

However, if workers who are tattooed want to be taken seriously at work, there are a few suggestions that research indicates will minimize any issues arising from their tattoos may cause. These include covering up tattoos where possible, due to employers’ perception that tattoos may affect views of customers (Timming, 2014.) Other factors to be considered are studies which show that tattooed staff report that they are often subject to unwanted touching in the workplace (McLeod, 2008), and customer reports that they prefer to be served by non-tattooed staff in a front-line situation (Bauman et al, 2016.) Despite these perceptions, some professionals prefer to show their tattoos at work to assert their power and authority, believing that they have earned the right to show their tattoos if they wish because they have been successful in their roles (Singer, 2016.)

Australian tattoo enthusiast Lee Hall, who runs his own public relations firm, has a large tattoo of his mother on his inner forearm. While Hall believes that in the past this lost him potential jobs as a younger man, today he feels that this is no longer relevant. Hall dismisses these past experiences by asserting that the companies who did not hire him are not the type of businesses he would want to work for anyway. He believes that in creative industries, tattoos are more acceptable than they might be in a corporate environment. Whilst Hall has no issue with tattoos on his staff, he does give consideration to the type of tattoo the interviewee has, and the type of job they are going for (Ham.)

Another important aspect to consider in this debate is a person’s cultural background. For example, immigrants for other countries may bear the marks of ritual tattooing and scarification, such as the Maori people of New Zealand, who partake in a ceremony called Ta moko, which is a rite of passage for Maori boys, who receive tattoos on their faces and bodies (“Ta moko – significance of Maori tattoos.”) It would be a clear-cut case of discrimination if these people were not deemed fit for employment simply because of the cultural symbols they bear on their skin.

In conclusion, tattoos do not have any impact on the standard of work that an employer can expect from an employee. Some customers may have certain preconceived notions about workers who bear tattoos, and tattooed front-line staff may take this into consideration when it comes to keeping them covered or uncovered. Other than this, there is no justifiable reason that tattoos people should be discriminated against in the workplace on the basis that it negatively affects their performance. There are many professionals in this day and age, such as PR man Lee Hall, who sport tattoos and have no problem employing people with tattoos. Attitudes have changed a great deal about tattoos in recent years because they are so common and mainstream now. The thought that someone cannot do their job just because they have a tattoo is outdated.

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