Can employers legally discriminate against you if you have a tattoo?

A new study by LinkedIn has found that one in five adults in the UK now has a tattoo.

It also revealed that 88% of recruiters and hiring managers think they have the potential to limit someone’s career progression.

As these two forces collide, Alison Schreiber from The HR Dept Durham discusses what the law says.

Alison said: “Most people will not be surprised that employers tend to look unfavourably on tattoos when they are hiring. Of course, we are talking here in the main about visible tattoos. These have been made appealing to some, by stars from the worlds of sport, movies and music.

“Tattoos may jarringly clash with an image that a company rightly wants to display: professionalism, wholesomeness, approachability.

Depending on the subject material of the tattoo, they may even be seen as intimidating.”

It is to be noted that an employer is legally entitled to hold these views and act on them. The Equality Act 2010 does not include the wearing of tattoos as a protected characteristic against discrimination.

There is the potential for indirect discrimination to be claimed, particularly if the tattoos are fundamental to a deeply held religious belief.

But generally, arguments of indirect discrimination have seen little mileage in the courts. Dress codes should be reasonable and clearly state the policy on tattoos. As long as this is done, and due process followed, an employer can make hiring and firing decisions based on tattoos.

Alison said: “The power clearly lies with the employer on this. But one word of advice would be to make sure your dress code is reasonable and well thought out and is not sexist”.

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