You’ve got a great education, great work experience, and great references. The employer seems to be impressed., but there’s just one thing keeping you from landing your dream job: The little tattoo on your left ankle.
What’s the big deal?
That’s what the younger working generation is increasingly asking potential, current, or recently former employer. Back in July, Jo Perkins had her contract terminated due to a 4 cm wide image of a butterfly on her foot that happened to be exposed due to a pair of shoes she was wearing one day. This breached the company’s no-visible-ink policy.
In Yorkshire, England, a 39-year-old with the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” inked across her forearm was let go from a waitress job back in 2013 after complaints filed from the customers.
It doesn’t matter what the individual case is; the fact stands that there are still some employers out there who aren’t into old school tattoo ideas, but instead insist on old school tattoo workplace laws. Every employer claims that they have let their employee go on grounds that they are acting within their legal limits. However, what they don’t fail to recognize is that in the U.S., 36% of those aged 18-25 have at least one tattoo.
This age bracket is the next working generation, so something or someone has to make a sacrifice, and it doesn’t look like employees are going to give up any ground on what they can and cannot have on their bodies.
Right now, an estimated 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo. “I’ve worked in Higher Education for over ten years and have increasingly noticed staff and faculty with visible ink,” says Christina Seeber, Marketing and Social Media Manager at the Academy of Responsible Tattooing. “This suggests a changing opinion on body art in a positive direction for employers and employees. Our school trains many degree holding art school graduates who know they are pursuing a legitimate and respected new career in the tattoo industry.”
With around 21,000 tattoo shops in the nation, there is bound to be a steady increase in tattoos in the workplace.
Last year, the British Sociological Association found that managers often expressed negative views about the message projected by tattooed staff. Many still believe there is a certain stigma against those with body ink; they are deemed “sleazy,” or “unprofessional,” at best.
Many tattoo enthusiasts for skin markings and ink declare that this prejudice is deeply unfair and as a result a growing number of online petitions for employee rights have been organized and signed to fight against tattoo discrimination in the workplace. A 34 year-old nick-named Body Art (who claims to be the UK’s most tattooed man), is leading the energetic movement for tattooed worker’s rights.
“If someone can do a job, they should be equal with the next person who has the same [resume],” he said.
Body Art went on to explain that body art is a lifestyle choice, not always defined by a whimsical decision to do something daring. What’s more interesting is that tattoos have existed for centuries. Archeologists have discovered tools in areas of France, Portugal, and Scandinavia that were most likely used for tattooing nearly 12,000 years ago.
“I was nine when I knew I wanted [tattoos],” he said. “People who are modified have an identity because of their image and who they are.”
Most workplaces throughout the UK and the United States state that no person shall have a tattoo on their face, hands, or above the collar line. Discriminatory, violent, or intimidating images are also strictly forbidden.
On the flip side of the argument, employers feel they are being wrongly accused of being discriminatory. Sandra Beale, an independent human resources consultant, states that companies have the right to decide who represents their brand and business. Clients and consumers may often be turned off after having an in-person interaction with an employee with tattoos; the company runs the risk of being deemed unprofessional.
“For an employer, if they employ them in a customer-facing role, it could have an impact on reputation and doesn’t portray a good corporate image,” said Beale.
Many countries have different laws pertaining to employee tattoos. Some laws have ignited national debates, while others have issued expensive lawsuits and lengthy legal battles. However, the fact remains that anti-tattoo policies are still in place, which suggests that organizations have not yet considered adopting more lenient body ink laws.
Pretty soon businesses around the world will need to understand that the younger working generation has more tattoos than those currently in the workforce and that laws will undoubtedly need to bend or flex to accommodate for this shift in culture.