Orgs spell out tattoo policy and expectations

by Stephanie Zillman27 Mar 2012

New South Wales police officers will be banned from having visible tattoos under a reform of the force's public image set to begin this year, and several options are being considered for serving officers with prominent tattoos. Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy from the Education and Training Command said he believed visible tattoos, particularly those above the neckline, were a blight on the police force. “This is about professionalism, it's about proper discipline and how you carry yourself in public,” Corboy said.

So much for being out on the beat. But what about tattoos in the office or on the factory floor?

According to one recruitment specialist, there is generally little tolerance for highly visible tattoos in the white-collar sector, advertising and IT being the most common exceptions to that rule. In the blue-collar sector, some employers are adamant they will not employ staff with visible tattoos, while others are solely focused on the applicant's credentials and ability to do the job. “Not all people with tattoos will find it difficult to get work,” Searson Buck workforce manager Leon Dixon said, “but it's an each-way bet.”

Yet HR expert Gary Taylor said prescriptive practices may not stack up when employing the new generation of workers. A recent poll reported that 36% of 18 to 25 year olds and a surprising 40% of 26 to 40 year olds have tattoos, not all of them invisible or benign. “I have encountered a case of a swastika tattoo above the collar line, which obviously pushes the boundaries of self-expression,” Taylor commented.

Employers have a legitimate business interest in presenting a workforce that is professional in appearance, and has the right to implement grooming and dress policies to protect that legitimate business interest, but they must be careful not to apply policies in a discriminatory manner. Any policy against visible tattoos may limit the size and location of tattoos, but the policy must be applied uniformly to both men and women to avoid claims of gender discrimination.

Legally, can you not hire someone because of the way they look?

  • The Human Rights Commission: some people may have tattoos because of their cultural or religious beliefs, such as Maoris. Tattoos are physical features which are visible and distinctive characteristics of the body so refusing to employ someone because of a tattoo may be discriminatory.
  • Each state has differ equal opportunity legislation, but in Victoria for example, while it is unlawful to discriminate based on physical features, such things as tattoos or body piercings are acquired and are therefore not included.
  • The Australian Defence has moved with the changing times and adjusted their policy. The ADF says, “Tattoos are common; therefore, it was appropriate for Defence to review related policies. Now, any candidate with a tattoo is eligible to join the ADF providing the tattoo is not offensive (indicating either violence, inappropriate language or a sexual nature), and the tattoo does not appear on the face or neck, except for valid religious or cultural reasons.”


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  • by Lizzy 27/03/2012 2:33:12 PM

    What about encouraging staff to bring their full authentic selves to work? How can you expect to get the best from your people when you demand that they dedicate energy toward pretending to be someone that they are not?

  • by Peter 27/03/2012 3:11:53 PM

    I recently went to Bunnings where the 'team' member serving me was covered in very visable tats had several piercings - ears, nose, lip, eyelid, tongue and was very helpful. I had to admit my initial reaction was bit shocked but he was incredibly helpfull and knowledgeable. I went from Bunnings to Office Works and the young lady serving was also heavily tattoed, with several piercings and bright pinkhair. I also got good service there. It appears Wesfarmers have no problem with tats and piercings as long as the service is OK.

  • by Estelle 27/03/2012 4:46:11 PM

    Tattoo's are part of life, people from all walks of life have them, being in the forces with a Tattoo brings the normality and human side of people with whom the general public can relate to them, let people be themselves, not turn them into stereo types with no self expression or personality

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