Mike Tyson’s brazen choice of body adornment may have been iconic enough to appear in dozens of movies, but for the general public, piercings and tattoos have had less favorable outcomes. Though attitudes towards tattoos have slowly shifted as the number of people getting inked increases, their acceptance in the workplace is still in question for managers and millennials seeking jobs.
For many, tattoos are nothing more than a meaningful memento or method of self-expression. But tattoos, regardless of their meaning or presentation, have been historically associated with low social class. This association, rooted in racial and cultural stereotypes, needs to be left in the past. In the modern American workplace, tattoos should not play a role in hiring decisions. Because the population of people with tattoos is growing, having workers with tattoos not only will foster an environment of acceptance for workers but for customers as well. Furthermore, if managers are limited to hiring people without tattoos, they could potentially limit their workforce.
“My tattoo is really special to me,” said first year Emerson Stewart. “It reminds me of my family and what they have done for me.” Just below his right arm, over the crooks of his rib cage is a swallow. “It commemorates the boating trips where I learned to appreciate my family more, discovered a deep respect for the ocean, and grew a lot as a man.” Tattoos have become a form of expression and often serve as reminders of the places and people we love.
“Both of my parents had tattoos and when I turned 18, my birthday present was my tattoo. Both of my sisters have multiple as well. In our family, our tattoos are symbolic of what’s important to us and what we value,” said third year Tayla Kelley. “I currently have six and each one has its own story that makes me who I am today. Whenever I see them, it’s a reminder to myself of what’s important to me and helps keep me grounded in a way. They’re reminders of everything I’ve been through and everything I’ve lost, but they remind me of what I still have as well.” It is these intricacies and the elusive beauty of tattoos like Kelley’s and Stewart’s that often evade the realm of consideration in the workplace.
Not only is it becoming more common for people to have sentimental tattoos, but it is also more common for people to have tattoos in general. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than 1 in 3 “Gen Nexters” or Americans ages 18-25 have expressed themselves in terms of appearance, tattoos being the most popular form. For any company, having a diverse, representative staff can improve business. However, to that end, some argue that having staff members who are heavily tattooed could decrease business because customers may have an inherent negative reaction.
There is also something to be said about a manager’s discretion in setting a dress code. Ideally, a manager has chosen a dress code that they feel is fitting for their business and the customers they will be serving. In terms of tattoos, there is the subjective questioning of obscenity and location. While I do believe there is more of a consensus on what is obscene or offensive, I believe there is less certainty in restricting the location of tattoos. Someone with a face tattoo that is not obscene may find it more difficult to be hired than someone else with a less visible tattoo such as one on the hand or wrist, and while I would venture to say that the average person bearing a face tattoo isn’t trying to get a job at your local haberdashery, it is important to question where the line should be drawn. For argument’s sake, I believe obscenity should be up to a manager’s discretion, while extreme locations such as the face or neck should be evaluated relative to other qualifications.
This association, rooted in racial and cultural stereotypes, needs to be left in the past. In the modern American workplace, tattoos should not play a role in hiring decisions. Because the population of people with tattoos is growing, having workers with tattoos not only will foster an environment of acceptance for workers but for customers as well.
As a final point, hiring managers who discriminate against job candidates with tattoos may be settling for a less-qualified pool of applicants. Because there is a growing population of people with tattoos among the younger generation—in fact, 1 in 3—a manager who will only consider applicants without tattoos is decreasing the pool of candidates by more than 30 percent.
The reality of tattoos in the workplace is that although there is a movement towards more acceptance, body adornments can inevitably play a role in hiring decisions because it is ultimately at the manager’s discretion whether or not they will hire someone with tattoos. Because restricting tattoos can limit the potential of a workforce, and the number of people with tattoos in America has significantly increased, I argue that we re-evaluate the culture and judgements of tattoos. We are now in a time where we can foster an environment that allows for a reclamation of this form of self-expression.
Aryana Kamelian wants you to rethink your initial impressions of tattooed workers.
There are many things about tattoos that I love. I love that they are a way of learning things about the people who are in possession of them, that they are a beautiful form of artwork and, most of all, that they provide a means of taking ownership of your own body. However, there are valid reasons why visible body art is considered inappropriate in a professional work setting.
The main reason is that tattoos can present ideas or symbols that are offensive to others. Though it’s probably safe to say that my blue butterfly tattoo won’t offend anyone I might encounter in the workplace, it can’t be guaranteed that every tattoo is not an offensive statement or symbol. Because of this, it is probably best to limit tattoos in the work setting altogether rather than single people out.
One extreme example would be a swastika tattooed on someone’s arm. While freedom of speech protects this person’s right to have this tattoo, I think we can all agree that this symbol is very offensive to others and is not an image that most companies want greeting a person when they are, say, grabbing their morning coffee. While most tattoos do not depict images that are so blatantly socially unacceptable as this one, there are many subtle images that can cause a client to feel uncomfortable when approaching a worker.
Personally, I don’t desire to be judged by those around me based on their perceptions of my tattoos. Countless studies indicate that first impressions have a lasting effect on relationships. I wouldn’t want a coworker or client making decisions about who I am as a person based on a piece of artwork. I would rather represent myself through my actions and words than through a tattoo. In the end, no one but you knows the true meaning of the images on your body, and while you might not mean to insult anyone with your tattoo, its meaning might be very easily misconstrued.
Even as visible tattoos have become more commonplace and diminishingly associated with low-brow culture, the image of a tatted body might clash with the desired appearance of the company. Considering that employers are paying workers to represent their companies, it is not too much to ask that workers display the sort of image that employers desire.
Along these lines, studies indicate that although showing body art has become a common trend, the presence of tattoos continues to be a limiting factor in the hiring process. A 2014 study determined that hiring managers are still concerned about how visible tattoos will affect a client’s opinion of an employee. Additionally, a 2015 study showed that clients still tend to have an aversion to front-of-house employees with tattoos. There is a very simple solution to this issue — get your tattoos done on your torso or thigh instead of your arm, and having art on your body becomes a nonissue.
Even as it has become more mainstream to sport visible tattoos, the law has always backed an employer’s right to enforce rules concerning the presence of tattoos. In many cases, employees have cited anti-discrimination and freedom of speech in cases attempting to fight employer’s policies. However, the courts have maintained that it is an employer’s right to determine policy regarding the presence of body art. Employers reserve the right to control the image of their companies, which includes whether or not their workers show tattoos. Even as visible tattoos have become more commonplace and diminishingly associated with low-brow culture, the image of a tatted body might clash with the desired appearance of the company. Considering that employers are paying workers to represent their companies, it is not too much to ask that workers display the sort of image that employers desire.
Of course, it is important to acknowledge that as tattoos become more prominent in popular culture, their presence tends to be associated less with the outlandish counterculture they once represented, especially among the younger audience. Also, it is not fair to assume that every tattoo is a statement that might offend someone. Many tattoos are beautiful pieces of artwork, names, dates or statements that have sentimental value to their owners.
Given this information, the presence of tattoos in the workplace should be up to the discretion of the staff supervisor. Taking all this into account, it is important to consider the consequences a tattoo might have on your desired career before heading to the tattoo parlor.
Melanie Ziment wants people to think twice before getting inked.