Tatoos at work

8 September, 2014
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

The number of people with (visible) tattoos seems to be on the up. With the likes of Cheryl Cole, David Beckham and Samantha Cameron all sporting obvious tattoos, it is hardly surprising that they have become more popular.

Despite their increased prevalence and popularity, some employers still consider them ‘unsightly’ and even ‘unsavoury’, and are of the view they create a negative perception to customers and clients.

So what rights do employers have when it comes to hiring a person who has a visible tattoo or piercing? What can be done about existing employees who decide to update their look with a new piercing or tattoo?

As the law stands, there is no free standing protection for employees against being dismissed because they have a tattoo or piercing. The Equality Act 2010 (which is the main legislation offering protection from discrimination) does not provide any direct protection in this regard. Save for a scenario where a tattoo or piercing was connected to a person’s religion or belief (thus giving rise to a potential claim for discrimination), employers would be within their rights to dismiss or not offer employment on this basis.

That said, employers must be more cautious when dealing with employees who have two years’ service or more, as these employees have a right not to be unfairly dismissed. In this scenario, it would be necessary for an employer to have a fair reason to dismiss and to have followed a fair process before doing so.

Having a clear dress code policy in place that addresses the employer’s position on tattoos and piercings and in particular sets out the standpoint on visible tattoos and piercings (ideally distinguishing between customer facing and back office roles) will certainly help make a case that there are fair business grounds for any such dismissal. Furthermore, employers should ensure that their dress code policy has a justifiable business rationale and does not discriminate against specific groups (i.e. religious groups). To ensure the company does not fall foul of the Equality Act 2010, consider an individual employee’s reason for getting a tattoo or piercing and be willing to adjust you policy accordingly.