Attitudes About Tattoos in Employment Law

With more and more people in our society choosing to embrace body art, current attitudes towards tattoos are starting to be questioned. It would appear that there is still the misconception that only thugs and lower-class individuals choose to have tattoos. Statistics show, however, that body art has well and truly crossed the class divide, and people from every walk of life now wish to express themselves in such a way.

As things currently stand, the law regarding tattoos in the workplace is very hazy. There are laws in place which state that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person for a position of employment based on his or her appearance. Furthermore, we need to remember that everyone has the fundamental human right to express themselves in whichever way they decide (provided it would not be construed as offensive or discriminatory to other people). Therefore, if a person’s tattoos could not be said to fall within such a category, surely it should be unlawful to discriminate against the person if he or she chooses to add tattoos to his or her body.

Yet this is not necessarily the case when it comes to employment law, and at the moment, employers are pretty much given carte blanche to dictate when and to what extent body art may be revealed within the workplace. With such a high percentage of the population now being tattooed, and as people look to have more and more of their body covered, this is causing quite a buzz in many workplaces across the country.

Ian Pointon, Chairman of the Police Federation in Kent, recently made the rather brave and interesting suggestion that more police officers should be encouraged to show off their tattoos when dealing with members of the public. According to Mr Pointon, this would help the police better integrate with the communities in which they serve and could realistically be an ice-breaker across generation gaps. After all, body art as a lifestyle choice is on the rise, and attempts to suppress this fact will not prove to be beneficial in the long term.

This suggestion has come at a time when other police forces in the United Kingdom have preferred to go against current trends, actually tightening up their policies regarding the recruitment of people with tattoos and the extent that serving officers may show off their work.

To the many people who simply do not understand those who look to body art as a lifestyle choice, tattoos are seen as unprofessional. Effectively, employers are being allowed to stigmatise and discriminate against a large percentage of the population just because they have elected to follow a practice that has been around for thousands of years and adorn their bodies with ink.

Challenges where this issue is concerned are just starting to appear. People are getting rather sick and tired of being made to feel like outcasts just because they are keen to have tattoos on their person. It will be very interesting to keep an eye on this employment law issue over the next few years. Any successful challenge that prohibits discrimination against employees with tattoos is almost certainly going to come from the European Union. But you never know: if our own high-ranking court system were to consider the law here, it may well transpire that a judge recognises the fact that discrimination against people with tattoos is unlawful and has been permitted to continue for far too long.