Q&A 

When is a tattoo appropriate in the workplace?

When is a tattoo appropriate in the workplace?

Q. One of my employees has a large tattoo on their arm. As their role is customer facing, can I ask them to cover it up?

A. The issue of visible tattoos on employees can be a difficult topic for an employer to broach.

Yet, despite their increasing popularity, employers can remain hesitant about allowing employees to display their body art to the general public, fearing it encourages a negative business image. In instances such as these, employers may wonder whether they are legally able to ask employees to keep their tattoos out of sight while conducting their daily role.

Employers are free to implement their own rules on the displaying of tattoos in the workplace.

There is no law which prohibits you from asking workers to cover up tattoos, or even to impose a blanket ban on them throughout your organisation, unless it is proven the tattoos are for religious purposes.

However, before making an ultimate decision, employers should consider the detrimental effect it may have on workplace morale.

Many high-profile individuals, including David Beckham, now proudly display their tattoos in public, encouraging numerous organisations, including the British Army and McDonald's, to significantly relax their stance on visible tattoos.

Imposing a ban on body ink could result in employers encountering resistance from employees and even lead to them losing otherwise highly skilled and valued members of staff.

Arguably, it is poor customer service that will ultimately result in the loss of custom and not necessarily the appearance of the employee in question.

Before asking the employee to cover up their tattoo, you should first check whether you have a dress code in place. Most dress codes will contain rules about tattoos and, if there is such a code, then you should hold an informal meeting with the employee and remind them of the code, what this means for their tattoo and the potential consequences if they breach the code.

If there is no dress code in place then you should consider introducing one.

These are useful to explain all the business rules surrounding appearance and can also include what employees should do regarding tattoos on days such as dress down days.

Employees who do not toe the company line on tattoos and, as such, are breaching a dress code policy, can be dealt with via the company’s disciplinary procedure.

While this topic can be frustrating for employers, clear company policies and fair, open reasoning should be maintained to encourage the continued productivity and wellbeing of the workforce.

Peter Done is managing director at Peninsula