Workplace Tattoo Rules, Rewritten

April 25, 2013  |  

NBA’s JR Smith takes tattooing to new heights. (Imaginechina via AP Images)

Remember when getting a tattoo was the rebellious thing to do? Now it seems like everyone has one. According to a 2010 Pew Research poll, 23% of Americans have a tattoo; that percentage increases to 40% for millennials. But that doesn’t mean every company wants their employees inked up. A professionalism survey by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College found that 61% of human resources managers said a tattoo would hurt a job applicants chances.

Some businesses have caught up with the times, but these are usually companies and industries that court creative types. In fact, tattoos can be a plus for designers, fashionistas, and other professionals looking to portray themselves as artsy and free-spirited.

Workers looking to break into more conservative settings have to be more careful about their body art decisions. According to the CNN:

“Eight percent of people with tattoos report trouble at work,” from being forced to hide them to being restricted from performing certain tasks,” [Amy Derick, co-author of a study on tattoos by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology] says. For example, a grocery store employee with a tattoo on their hand might be asked to perform tasks less likely to bring them into contact with the public, like stocking shelves instead of working a register.

It’s not just the location of tattoos you have to worry about. Subject matter can present challenges as well. Marc J. Scheiner, a senior associate specializing in employment law at Duane Morris, tells the New York Times, “No federal law prohibits employers from making a hiring decision because of a tattoo. But clearly you can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, so if someone has a religion-based tattoo, that may call for different analysis.”

What’s a tatted up businesswoman to do?

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