Tattoo’s and Piercings in the Workplace

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All week at work we have been debating the topic of tattoo’s and piercings in the workplace – is it acceptable? is it legal? And does an employer have the right to refuse to hire or dismiss an employee who fits this category?

After researching the legislation in QLD the findings conclude; it is not illegal to terminate or accept another less suitable candidate who didn’t have a visible tattoo or piercing, however it is a grey area that can be challenged by either side. As a tattooed and pierced employee in a corporate environment myself, I have always been in both positions to agree with either side. It must be noted that although my piercings are not worn during business hours, or I wear clear studs – the tattoos are obviously harder to cover. My tattoos are the most sentimental part of my life, they were carefully chosen and so were the artists. When someone tries to object about tattoos in general, as well as my own personal ones, I can feel guarded and attacked. Depending of course on how someone approaches the subject, this is purely because my artwork is held sacred to myself (some do consider it artwork, or a canvas to the soul).

I will also mention that I stand clear on someone who has an offensive, vulgar or inappropriate tattoo will most likely always have a harder time seeking employment than someone who doesn’t, and this is common sense. Depending on where you work, you cannot expect the clientele to accept your physical decisions that you were not born with. The tattoo industry has been one of the fastest growing industries to date, QLD is now considered the most tattooed state in Australia. Not too long ago Sailors, criminals and athletes were subject to tattoo’s, but now they have gone mainstream and have many different avenues, even a medical marking for the average person is not uncommon. Let’s not forget to mention tattoos are a cultural custom in many third world countries around the world, with no sign of stopping or slowing down.

As much as I appreciate and relish in getting inked, I would never outright tell someone to get tattooed – and I think that should work both ways. In a society where personal appearance creates more pressure to look great, people tend to be even more receptive or disapproving of our appearance; sometimes to the point of preferring someone with a cleaner appearance instead of looking at their work ethic or recommendations.

At the end of the day, I would hope that most people use the old adage to ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and a manager should have the right to be able to talk openly to the potential employee about covering or downplaying the tattoo if possible – and the employee should be willing to listen and understand company policy.

Everyone needs to feel accepted and safe in a working environment, communication is essentially the key here. When colleagues can agree to disagree on personal opinions, but still work together without judgement- then that is a positive working environment. We are workers and we also have our personal lives and identities outside of work; with the right balance and harmony generically speaking, the focus should be on the ability and willingness of the employee, and not the ink they permanently bear.

Article by Courtney Neville

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