Tattoos may still be taboo for many employers, but they should never lose sight of the importance of getting the right person for the job, says HR and employment law specialists HR Team.

It’s estimated that 20% of people in the UK have a tattoo – in fact body art is so popular that July 17th has been declared National Tattoo Day.

Age, gender and religion are now much less common barriers than they used to be when it comes to body art. And although some employers are accepting of tattoos, research has found that most are not fond of body ink when it comes to recruiting.

Air New Zealand recently revised its employment ban on body art to include people with tattoos. Many say the review of policy is long overdue, given the cultural significance of tattoos in New Zealand – as facial and body tattoos are an integral part of the Maori heritage and culture.

In London the Metropolitan police relaxed a ban on recruiting people with body art last year, saying tattoos would be considered on a “case by case basis”. Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said the policy was changed after 10% of new applicants were rejected in 2017 for having tattoos.

While body art is enjoying increased popularity with individuals over the last two decades, they are less than popular in the workplace.

Employers can request employees to cover visible tattoos such as those above the neckline and on their hands. They can even have a negative effect at interview stage, placing job seekers’ employment prospects at risk.

HR and employment law expert with HR Team, Martina McAuley, explains that in Northern Ireland workplaces tattoos are not specifically protected under legislation.

“For a large number of employers tattoos are still taboo when hiring new recruits. Nevertheless, getting the right person for the job should be the most important thing for employers,” she says.

“Having a tattoo is not a protected characteristic, unless it is for a genuine religious reason. Employers can ask employees to cover tattoos – this is a particular concern in Northern Ireland regarding sectarian tattoos or body art which could be considered offensive. However, we would not recommend that employers base their recruitment decisions on tattoos alone.

“It is important to exercise great care if considering a tattoo as a deciding factor when hiring an employee.”
“Most employers will have a dress code in place which stipulates that tattoos and piercing should be covered up. Others may have a blanket ban on tattoos, such as the stance taken by Air New Zealand before its recent policy revision.

“It is always important that an organisation has a robust dress code policy in place that reflects the needs of the workplace. It is equally important that all employees are made aware of the policy details.”

Ms McAuley adds: “A one-size policy does not fit all. Companies with customer facing roles will have different dress code requirements than those with non-customer facing employees.

“If employers have any concerns in relation to employee tattoos or body art, they should contact a HR professional to get the right advice before taking any action,” she added.

National Tattoo Day was first celebrated in the UK on July 4, 2015 and was subsequently celebrated annually on July 17.