TATTOO BE or not to be? |

2 mins

TATTOO BE or not to be?

In an employment landscape where first impressions count, employment law specialist Buckles Solicitors’ senior associate Nicola Cockerill, asks where tattoos fit

Tattoos have always been divisive. Some consider them to be a personal expression, while others find them distasteful or, even on occasion, offensive. Can employers ask employees to cover up visible tattoos? Or could they even refuse to offer employment to people based entirely on their body art?

Let’s look at how personal attitudes towards tattoos can influence both the recruitment process and talent retention – and how this aligns with employment law.


Roughly 30% of 25 to 39-year-olds in the UK are currently tattooed. A 2015 YouGov poll found that of those polled, 33% between 18-60+ thought less positively of those with visible tattoos, whereas 44% did not mind.

Another study undertaken by The Knowledge Academy in December 2019 sought to measure whether, in fact, tattoos in the workplace were becoming normalised.

A sample of 1,265 people was asked ‘Do you prefer employees with a tattoo in the following professions?’ The results revealed a definite divide as to how people working in certain industries were perceived differently due to their tattoos.

Generally speaking, it is more acceptable for those working in the creative, beauty and leisure industries to have tattoos, while those in traditional white-collar sectors such as politics, legal or healthcare were preferred not to have tattoos.

When it comes to aesthetic medicine specifically, it was found that 68% of those polled preferred people in the healthcare sector not to have visible tattoos. This highlights that, while tattoos are becoming more socially acceptable and indeed more mainstream, there remain some people that perceive them negatively within the healthcare sector.


In 2016, ACAS updated its guidance on matters surrounding dress codes. It cautioned against negative attitudes toward tattoos, recognising that this could result in some employers inadvertently missing out on talent purely because prospective employees have tattoos.

As it currently stands, UK legislation does not specifically deal with the issue of tattoos – visible or not. The decision as to whether to recruit or reject a job applicant because of their tattoos is subject to an employer’s discretion.

To manage expectations concerning personal appearance, it is recommended that an employer has a dress code policy which clearly states what is, and is not, acceptable in terms of visible tattoos.

There may be a genuine business reason why visible tattoos are not acceptable, for example, if they are perceived negatively by the clients or customers of the business. This perception may of course alter, depending on the employee’s role within the business. A client may regard a doctor negatively for having a tattoo, but may care less if the tattoo is sported by, for example, an administrator.

While tattoos do not in themselves constitute a protected characteristic for discrimination laws, if an individual has a tattoo relating to one of the protected characteristics (for example, it has a religious connotation), that person may be afforded protection under legislation. Further, a business should take care to act consistently. Treating women with tattoos differently from men with tattoos might also be regarded as discrimination.

Irrespective of the legal position when it comes to tattoos, given the current difficulties experienced by many businesses, this may be a good time to review existing policies and practices to see whether they are still fit for purpose or need updating. After all, a tattoo does not define someone’s ability to carry out their role; a more relaxed attitude may result in a more inclusive environment, which in turn may help with attracting new staff and retaining existing talent.

This article appears in November 2022

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This article appears in...
November 2022
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