What’s the latest?
A new study by the University of Miami Business School and the University of Western Australia Business School, published in the journal Human Resources, found that the perception of tattoos in the workplace has changed so much in recent years that visible body art is no longer linked to individual employment or wage discrimination.
Collecting data from more than 2,000 participants from all 50 states in the US, the study found that the annual earnings of tattooed employees were statistically ‘indistinguishable’ from those without tattoos. In fact, they found that tattooed job seekers were not only just as likely to get a job as non-tattooed candidates but, in some instances, were even more likely to be hired – 7.3% more likely, to be exact.
However (and this will come as no surprise), the finding related to the higher level of employability for tattooed people only applies to men. Among women, no difference in employability was found between those with and without tattoos.
Is that the case in the UK too?
As the study’s authors noted, given the increasingly prevalence of tattoos in society, it’s only natural the taboo around tattoos in the workplace has diminished – after all, hiring managers and supervisors would likely find themselves at a competitive disadvantage for the most-qualified employees should they discriminate against tattooed workers.
In 2015, statistics revealed that 40% of US millennials had at least one tattoo, and given the UK’s figure wasn’t far behind (30% of Brits aged 25-39 have been under the needle) it’s safe to say public perceptions towards body art have also changed drastically on our side of the pond.
However, it’s not all good news for those with tattoos. One smaller-scale study published in June found that women with tattoos or extreme piercings were offered lower starting pay than those without body art as they were seen as ‘less competent and committed’.
It’s an unfair bias UK employment law specialists at ACAS have picked up on, too. In a 2016 study of 33 businesses across Britain, the organisation discovered that people with visible tattoos and piercings often appeared to be stereotyped by their managers – who made assumptions about their employees’ characters based on their appearances – especially if they worked at more traditional firms.
Despite tattoos and piercings being allowed in 41% of the organisations surveyed, a large proportion of the anonymously interviewed individuals, ranging from a senior manager in the emergency services to a regional director of an accounting firm, also told ACAS they would be hesitant in hiring applicants with visible tattoos. Some even said they saw tattoos as a legitimate reason to withhold a job offer.
What are the laws around tattoo discrimination?
As the HR experts at HR24 explain, aside from religious markings, body art is not considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, meaning employers are free to base their hiring decisions on this aspect alone.
Due to the popularity of tattoos, many organisations have started including them as part of their official employee dress codes. For example, the Metropolitan Police prohibits tattoos on the face, hands and above the collar line, as well as any which are ‘discriminatory, violent or intimidating’.
And, in certain circumstances, employers could even consider visible body art as a valid reason to fire existing employees, especially if they’re frequently dealing with clients and customers (in fact, there are quite a few cases in the UK of this exact thing happening). Unless employees have built up unfair dismissal rights through their length of service, they have no legal protection against getting fired because of their tattoos.
Thinking twice about that neck tattoo yet?
For more information and advice on UK employment law, visit http://www.acas.org.uk/
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