New research by Acas suggests that employees with visible tattoos continue to face discrimination in the workplace. The study found that negative attitudes towards people with tattoos can influence the recruitment process, with employers concerned about how visible tattoos will be perceived by clients and customers.
Almost one in three young people have a tattoo, with Acas warning that companies could be missing out on talented employees. This could also affect employee attraction and career progression, and could potentially result in legal claims against businesses.
The Equality Act 2010 does not provide specific protection for individuals with body art and employers have considerable discretion as to how they deal with employees or the recruitment of those with tattoos. However, employees do have the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of a protected characteristic (which include age, sex and religious belief). Therefore a tattoo in some cases which involves religious iconography could trigger protection from discrimination.
Whether a dismissal for reasons relating to appearance will be fair will depend on the circumstances and whether the employer acted reasonably.
For example, if an employer has a clear dress code policy which bans visible tattoos and has an employee who works in a customer-facing role and gets a facial tattoo, dismissal for failure to follow a reasonable instruction is likely to be justifiable.
However, in a situation where there is no dress code or other known rules on appearance at work, the decision may not be so straightforward.
Employers who wish to enforce a dress policy should have a clear and concise code that is communicated to staff at the outset of their relationship with the business and regularly thereafter.
Prior to drafting or updating a dress code, employers should carefully think about the image they want to portray and consider what impact, if any, body art could have.
For example, if an employee is not client facing, would a tattoo have a genuine impact on their business if the individual is otherwise qualified for the role? If the employee is client facing, what sort of customers/clients are they interacting with and what sort of image do those customers/clients expect?
It is good practice to consult with employees regarding the dress codes. This will help to achieve buy-in from staff while also ensuring that the policy is balanced and fair.
After implementation dress codes should be enforced consistently.
Over time, visible tattoos and other forms of body art may become generally more socially acceptable leading to a softening of the approach to them in the workplace. However, in certain industries, there may always be an expectation that employees will have a more conventional appearance and changing attitudes is likely to take time. However, in more creative industries, change may come sooner.
It is worth remembering that tattoos, and other forms of body art, are enjoying a period of being fashionable, which like most other fashions, may not last. Employers should keep their dress codes under regular review and revise them when necessary to take into account current trends and fashions.
If you require assistance with drafting a dress code policy or if you have any questions relating to the information above please do not hesitate to contact Sally Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01905 610410