Discrimination against employees or candidates with tattoos no longer exists, according to new research. But does that mean that all employers have to accept them?
Tattoos have long had a bad rap, but perceptions appear to be changing – even in the workplace.
New research by the University of Miami and University of Western Australia (UWA) found no evidence to indicate that the inked among us suffer from any employment or pay discrimination.
The prevalence of people with tattoos is on the rise, which has helped alter perceptions. Research conducted in 2016 by McCrindle found that one in five Australians have been inked, and the rate is even higher in women, with 24 per cent of the female population having at least one tattoo.
And millennials aren’t the only generation who are tatted up. The McCrindle study shows that 20 per cent of tattooed Australians went under the needle when they were in their mid 30s or older. Parents don’t seem to have the same disdain they once had for tattoos either, with over a half not having a strong opinion either way about their children’s body art, and one third actually encouraging them to ink away.
Andrew Timming, associate professor of human resource management at UWA says of the new outlook: “Historically, tattoos have been associated with lower classes, crime, drug abuse and mental illness, however in the past few decades tattooing has broken away from those stereotypes as a form of self-expression.”
Employers also may have changed their tune because they don’t exactly have a choice. According to the study’s lead author Michael French: “Given the increasing prevalence of tattoos in society – around 40 percent for [US-based] young adults – hiring managers and supervisors who discriminate against tattooed workers will likely find themselves at a competitive disadvantage for the most qualified employees.”
Tattoos may be increasing in popularity, but employers aren’t obligated to hire inked candidates. There is no law stopping workplaces from banning them, according to Lawpath writer Fiona Lu. However, employers best beware of discriminating against employees or candidates whose tattoos are an expression of their race, nationality or ethnicity.
In industries where image is of the utmost concern, employers can instead place an emphasis on a neat and professional appearance in organisational policies, rather than a blanket ban on tattoos. For more detail on workplace policies around tattoos, see this 2016 HRM article on the matter.
Not so fast
Not all industries are as progressive as others when it comes to tattoos, this is especially true of airlines. Recently a woman was refused employment by New Zealand Airlines over a tattoo of Tinkerbell on her back.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the airline said: “Uniformed customer-facing staff are not permitted to have tattoos visible when wearing the uniform.” Qantas has also been known to preclude tattooed candidates from employment.
Another industry where inking is frowned upon is medicine, where research has indicated that patients have a lower opinion of the treatment they receive from tattooed physicians.
So despite changing trends, when it comes to some kinds of work, it may still be advisable to think before you ink.
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