Tattoos in the Workplace

Jennifer Galvan

by Jennifer Galvan | February 13, 2012 @ 10:00AM

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Not long ago, tattoos were often associated with gangs, bikers, and certain cultural groups; however, in more recent years, a large number of men and women from various backgrounds visit a tattoo artist to get a permanent mark on their body. From small, inconspicuous pieces to large, visible designs, body art is more than a trend to some. Although there have been waves of popular tattoo practices, such as armbands and lower back tattoos, there are still many who opt to get a tattoo for more personal reasons. But what happens when you go out looking for a job and the company requires visible tattoos to be covered? Legally, companies have the right to impose a strict dress code requiring body art to be covered, so long as there is no discrimination against sexes and/or ethnicity.

Today’s workforce is seeing more and more young individuals entering the corporate world, many of which who express their individuality with body art. Several individuals who get a tattoo do so because they see it as “an extension of themselves and personalities.” As Audrey S., 32, marketing manager, states, “I get tattoos to commemorate certain times in my life. I consider them to be a permanent photo album of sorts.” Because tattoos have gained so much popularity in recent years, many companies are starting to take a more relaxed stance with their tattoo guidelines, including Audrey’s, which does not require their staff to cover their body art. In addition, depending on the company, tattoos may not be obliged to be covered if there is no interaction with clients. For example, restaurants may require servers and hosts to cover tattoos, while cooks may not need to do so.

Just how do individuals feel about having to cover their tattoos? Most understand the need to appear professional while at work. Steve M., 32, retail manager, says, “I believe in being professional, I do wear a suit; however, I also believe having my own personality, and that's who I am.” He goes on to say that he would definitely cover them because he is in direct contact with customers, but believes that having multiple tattoos does not negatively affect his work ethic or ability to perform his job.

Although he works at a motorcycle dealership that doesn’t require him to cover his body art, Daniel D., 33, also agrees that there is a certain degree of professionalism that should always be taken into account. “If my employer requested for me to cover my tattoos with clothing... That wouldn't be a problem. After all, at work, you have to be a professional and there’s an appearance to uphold.”

One reason for requiring employees to cover their tattoos has been due to how customers perceive them. Because it is in one’s nature, if a client is greeted by employee with tattoos, he/she may automatically make assumptions about the type of person he/she is. Some clients may communicate with the employee in a certain manner due to their preconceived feelings towards the tattooed individual; there may be some who even go so far as to request another staff member.

Whether getting a small tattoo to remember a loved one, or one that covers your entire chest, wondering if it will need to be covered at some point is always in the back of our minds. As companies update their dress standards, it is also becoming less difficult for those with tattoos to further themselves in the corporate world. Although tattoos are a part of your individual personality, a professional appearance seems to be universally understood, no matter what your social upbringing may be.

On the other hand, there are those who find that for either personal or professional reasons they no longer wish to have a certain tattoo on their body. Should you wish to erase a mark on your body, there is the option of laser tattoo removal. However, keep in mind that this is a painful procedure – oftentimes said to be more so than the original tattoo session. Also, not all tattoos can be removed 100 percent; some are only faded to a certain degree. This is something that you should keep in mind when considering a new tattoo; be sure that it is something you want and in a place that you will be happy with for a very long time. Otherwise, the removal process may be quite unpleasant.

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