Body art is becoming more and more popular with all types of people and is not just reserved for people outside of the social norm. According to a study by Pew Research Centre around 23% of Americans have a tattoo with many potential UK employees following suit.

An article in the Daily Mail (9.7.2014) reported that a female business executive working for Salisbury FM was dismissed after 5 month's service because of a tattoo of a butterfly on her foot, which was clearly visible.  Although this particular lady would be unlikely to claim due to her length of service, the publicity that this story has attracted isn't ideal for the Organisation concerned.  

So what can an Employer do to protect themselves?

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• Have a clear dress and appearance policy, which Employees understand and sign for when they commence the Organisation. A copy of a policy can be downloaded from HR Companion. Ensure that it is applied consistently across the Organisation.

• Avoid discriminating against someone because of a tattoo. Traditionally, more men than women have had tattoos and therefore, it may be deemed to be socially more acceptable. However, when interviewing or selecting someone bear in mind that a woman should be treated the same as a man and should not be singled out because she has a tattoo.

• Consider the role that someone is doing, an Employee who has an expletive tattooed on their neck is less suitable to meet the public or clients than they would be working in a warehouse with little contact with others.

• Consider where the tattoo is placed. Someone who has a tattoo on their face regardless of how beautiful it may be may not be as suited to a public facing role than someone who has a tattoo on their back that can be hidden.

• Before speaking to someone about their tattoo also consider their religious beliefs. Is the tattoo related to there beliefs or is asking them to cover it up going to offend them in any way?

• In some cases tattoos may be encouraged. For example Police Officers or Prison Wardens may use tattoos to be more accepted into the community in which they work.

So in answer to the question, yes Employers can dismiss someone because they have a tattoo but they must behave reasonably in doing so. Most Employers have a policy where tattoos are allowed, but should not be visible ensuring that good Employees who have tattoos are retained. Provided the above points are taken into consideration, and a disciplinary process is followed, Employers are within their rights to dismiss someone on the grounds that they have a visible tattoo.


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