Society’s view on tattoos and body art has changed significantly over the last few decades. Things like crazy hair colors, body piercings and tattoos are more commonplace than ever before. However, whether or not this belongs in the workforce is still a widely debated topic.

Should businesses have a policy in place to avoid any type of potentially offense skin art?

Do your employees have body art?

According to a Harris Interactive poll from 2012, one in five adults in the US have at least one tattoo somewhere. The US Food and Drug Administration reports, that about 45 million Americans have tattoos, yet there are still certain health risks associated with them. You will likely find that at least a few of the people you work with or your employees have them, then.

Why is this a debate then?

Employers often think the appearance of tattoos is undesirable. In situations where the employee is interacting with clients, it is even more worrisome to employers. About 50 percent of people without tattoos perceive those that have them as capable of deviant behavior or more rebellious than others, according to the Harris Interactive poll. Of course, there are plenty of clean-cut professionals who have these as well.

The debate centers on whether or not employers should allow this form of self-expression to be seen by customers. Some employers feel the employee should cover up these tattoos while on company time. The work environment, of course, dictates whether it is necessary for employees to do this. In a retail setting, it may not be as necessary to cover them up as those who are working as doctors or even nurses.

Should tattoos be banned at work?

Banning tattoos may not be what most employees want. In fact, employees want to be able to show off their body art without any prejudice from others. They also do not want to fear that they cannot get a job because of the presence of this skin art. In fact some experts believe that employers need to be careful about not hiring those with tattoos. It is quite possible that a young professional with one may be the perfect person for a job in the company.

The bottom line is that employers need to consider whether having tattoo policies is necessary. The American Bar Association Journal noted in 2008 that the courts have upheld the employer’s right to ban these from being displayed while on company time due to the perception that clients may have. Still, the decision is a tough one, often requiring a sensitive and personal touch when it comes to creating policies like this.

What is the HR Writer’s stance on tattoos in the workplace?

First off, I believe in freedom of expression as long as it does not encroach on unprofessionalism. That means, if an employee has a tattoo (or several), piercings, brightly colored hair, or other forms of personal expression; yet they always conduct themselves in a professional manner at work, there is no problem.

However, as a human resource practitioner, I do believe that in certain client-facing roles, it’s best to keep body art at certain acceptable limits and that it’s best to err on the side of conservative. Yet, this standard is changing somewhat. For example, I myself have a tiny nose piercing that 10 years ago was considered “offensive” by some. Today, people barely notice it. Female workers of the past were expected to wear business suits including skirts and hose. Now, most professional women opt for comfortable pant suits.

It will be interesting to see how things change over the next decade in terms of personal appearance at the office, and if tattoos remain part of the debate.

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