Tattoos in the workplace – are you missing out on talent?

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I was pleasantly surprised to read that Virgin Atlantic has recently lifted its ban on cabin crew displaying tattoos at work, becoming the first airline to have done so in the process.

Given the current struggles faced by many businesses in attracting and retaining talent, it seems at odds to retain policies and practices, in some cases rather archaic, that actively prevent or discourage employees from working for them because they have a tattoo that may be visible to the outside world. Surely the skills and talent that each individual has to offer is more beneficial and important to a business than whether they display a tattoo?

That said, I do of course accept that the approach taken by businesses will depend on several factors, including whether the tattoo is offensive, where exactly it is displayed on the employee’s body (e.g. splashed across their face) and, to a degree, the type of work or industry in which the employee works.

In some industries, such as fashion and graphic design, tattoos are viewed as a form of self-expression and are considered pretty “normal”. Whereas in other types of industries, such as the legal and political worlds, tattoos, certainly visible ones, are less common and therefore less normalised. In part, this may be due to the type of people each industry naturally attracts or, in part, due to the views that society places on individuals within those sectors. In any event, is it fair to cast judgment on an individual’s abilities based on their tattoos?

From a legal perspective, there is no legislation governing tattoos and whether it is reasonable to dismiss someone with tattoos and/or whether less favourable treatment of someone with tattoos constitutes discrimination. It’s certainly worth bearing in mind that if the tattoo relates to a protected characteristic, for example if it were to have a religious connotation, then this may give rise to a discrimination argument if they are treated less favourably as a result of the tattoo. However, this will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. In addition, if the employee has more than two years length of service, then they have acquired employment law rights and any dismissal on grounds of the tattoo may give rise to a claim for unfair dismissal.

Regardless of the legal position, given the current shortage of available candidates to recruit, it is more important than ever to retain the existing talent that businesses have. It therefore seems a sensible time to review existing policies and procedures relating to tattoos and check whether they have the same level of relevance today as they did when they were drafted. In any event, as tattoos become more commonplace within society, a more inclusive culture may be more attractive to potential new talent.

I wonder if this was part of Virgin Atlantic’s thought process when they reviewed their policies?