Are Tattoos and Piercings Still a No-Go for the Workplace?

tatoos and piercings in the workplaceThere’s a movement going on out there and you’ve probably seen it or become part of it. In recent years tattoos, piercings and other “frowned upon” lifestyle choices have become mainstream. The amount of friends you have with tattoos probably outnumber the friends without tattoos. Living in Barcelona I see it every day. In my neighbourhood, tattoo parlours are almost as frequent as bakeries and every one of my friends has at least one tattoo or body piercing. I see both men and women daily with colourful tattoo sleeves, with ear gauges and nose rings. It’s freedom of expression, it’s exhibiting our personalities for the world to see, but it gets me wondering, what does the workplace think of all this?

Barcelona is a place where creative minds from all over the world come together. I’ve met graphic designers, jewellery makers, photographers, fabric designers, illustrators and artists. Though body art and piercings are generally accepted in creative fields, what about those working in medicine, in finance or customer service? Do the rules change based on the sector? Should we still let our appearance matter more than our skill?

In a survey from, 60% of employers stated they were less likely to hire a candidate with visible tattoos or facial piercings. Their reasoning? They are worried about how that person could affect how the company is represented. Unfortunately this tells us that the majority of people still judge based on appearance.

Today, 1 in 5 Britons have tattoos. Many of them work in creative industries were body art is accepted, but what about those who don’t? Under the UK law, employers are permitted to deny a position to someone because they have a tattoo. They are also allowed to ask an employee to cover up his or her tattoo or dismiss any employee who gets a tattoo during the time of their contract.

Before getting a tattoo, make sure it’s acceptable for the career you’re after. If you’re pursuing a career in medicine, customer service or any other field that deals directly with clients, patients, or the public, its best to get a tattoo that’s always covered. First impressions are everything and though it’s best to judge a first impression by what the person says or how they act, most people do it by appearance. Wearing all your piercings and not covering up your tattoos on a job interview is a definite no-go.

Who are the ones with tattoos and piercings?

There’s a lot of information and conflicting views about tattoos and piercings in the workplace circling the internet. Some companies believe that the office should be kept strictly professional and others believe that workers with tattoos and piercings add diversity. I gathered up a few of my tattooed and pierced friends and asked them to share their experience with me.

Bea, Office Administrator at an MRI facility | Chicago, Illinois

Have your tattoos ever been a problem during your job search?tattoos in workplace 1

“I don’t believe that my tattoos have ever hindered me from gaining employment. For interviews, my tattoos can be easily concealed by a suit jacket and slacks. I do have tattoos on my left fingers and I had to conceal those for an interview with an airline. I bought makeup from a brand that provides heavy coverage for scars, discoloration, and even tattoos. It wasn’t a miracle cover-up but it was definitely passable and I was able to go to the interview without worrying that my finger tattoos were going to be discovered.”

Do you think the world is changing their ideas on people with tattoos?

“I would say so. I bet there are plenty of parents who are raising families right now who have them. That’s how commonplace they are. I mean, there are still certain spaces in which (heavily) tattooed individuals might be frowned upon but, I would like to believe that even that might change.”

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Marketing Manager | Barcelona, Spain

What would you say to someone who showed up to an interview with tattoos, facial piercings, hair dye and anything outside of the standard interview dress?

First impressions count and when interviewing for a position, unless you know for a fact that the company is tattoo/piercing friendly, the rule of thumb is cover up the tattoos and take the piercings out. In the online industry for example, it is widely accepted simply because programmers do not spend time with clients or rarely ever represent their company to the public. For sales and customer service positions tattoos, piercings and crazy hair dyes just won’t do. You are not only representing your company but as a sales person, you want to sell your product and bring attention to your product. Drawing attention away from your product and to your appearance will hurt the sale. In an interview you want to sell yourself based on your talent, personality, and experience.  You don’t want to risk that the interviewer is so distracted by your appearance that they are not listening to who you really are.

Are tattoos in the workplace becoming more acceptable?

Yes, tattoos are no longer seen as a defiant or rebellious act and are now viewed more as an acceptable form of self-expression. Many workplaces do not have issues regarding tattoos, and if the company culture allows it then it becomes a non-issue. Some companies and positions do require that you remove piercings and cover up tattoos, so the best advice is to research the company prior to applying, and connect with current employees to get as much feedback as possible. 

Illustrator and System Analyst | Barcelona, Spain

tattoos in workplace 2

In past job interviews, have your tattoos or piercings been an issue or did you cover them up and take out your piercings?

It has been an issue for some jobs, and for those, I covered my tattoos for the interview. I exposed my tattoos later on and it didn’t change the employer’s opinion. These days I only apply for companies that don’t care about employee tattoos.

Do you think it’s still acceptable for companies to reject an applicant for his or her physical appearance?

Of course not. Everybody claims respect for the studies and abilities of each person; we fight against racism, sexism, etc. Why not fight for the freedom of an individual to choose what they want to do with their body without facing future consequences?

Have your bosses or colleagues, current or previous had anything negative or positive to say about your tattoos?

I only remember one job in which I had to cover the tattoos and remove piercings, and that was Starbucks. Other than that, I’ve always worked within the tourism sector (and maybe having tattoos is positive for the Barcelona look) and with IT companies, which consider skill over image. Colleagues only ask because they’re curious, no disrespect.

Even though times are changing and people have become more accepting of different lifestyles, it’s a slow change and not everyone is happy with it. In your professional life, it’s best to stick to the rules until there is a clear understanding of what’s accepted and what’s frowned upon.

Do you have tattoos or piercings? Share your stories with us.

Jeannine for JobisJob

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