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Does Your Ink Affect Your Career?

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The display of tattoos in the office was once taboo, especially for women. Today, skin art is widely accepted and viewed by many as a cool form of self-expression. According to a 2019 poll by Ipsos, a leading market research firm, three in ten Americans have at least one tattoo, up from one in five in 2012. More than 90 percent of those polled said they didn’t regret getting their tattoos. 

Are tattoos acceptable at work? There was a time when sailors and other blue-collar men were the only ones allowed to have visible tattoos in the workplace. Today, most employers recognize that displaying ink has no effect on a person’s ability do their job. A study conducted in 2018 by the University of Miami found that people with tattoos are just as likely to be employed as those without. 

The most tattoo-friendly employers tend to be in industries based on the arts, such as music, fashion and design, where tattoos are viewed as a component of personal style. Many retail and service businesses support and even encourage tattoos among employees to appeal to like-minded customers.

There are still some industries that prohibit tattoo display in the workplace. Healthcare professionals, law enforcement officers, teachers and many government workers are often required to cover tattoos at work. Jobs that require face-to-face contact with customers are more likely to restrict the display of tattoos than those with no contact. Company culture may also come into play, with more conservative companies having stricter policies. 

Is It Legal to Discriminate Based on Tattoos?
Currently there are no laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against people with visible ink. Companies have the right to enforce employee appearance policies that support their brand or image. Even though you can’t be denied employment because of your gender, race, religion or age, you can still be turned down because of tattoos.

What You Need to Know about Your Tattoos
If you have tattoos and don’t want them to impact your career, you should get a general understanding of what’s expected in your industry and geographic location. When applying for employment, try to find out in advance about a company’s culture and tattoo policy. Be open about your tattoos during the interview process if you plan on displaying them in the workplace. 

There are several factors that may determine whether a visible tattoo is acceptable to an employer, including the tattoo itself. Some organizations, such as Disney and Starbucks Coffee, draw the line at tattoos on the face or neck. Disney also prohibits designs larger than a hand. Tattoo content that is violent, offensive or discriminatory is also discouraged by most employers. 

The demographic of a hiring manager may be a factor when it comes to getting hired with tattoos. A 2019 Ipsos poll reports 40 percent of those under 35 have at least one tattoo; 36 percent between 35 and 54 have body art. Only 16 percent of those older than 54 have body art. In general, members of the Boomer generation are less likely to be accepting of skin art in the workplace compared to younger generations. The type of clients being worked with can also make a difference. For example, a healthcare worker who deals with the elderly may get complaints about even the most tasteful tattoos.

Covering Tattoos for Work
A company may hire someone with visible tattoos and then require them to be covered during working hours. Long sleeves are the easiest way to cover arm tattoos and opaque tights are great for skin art on the legs. There are also a variety of special garments available online that cover tattoos on different parts of the body, such as partial sleeves and fingerless gloves. Another option is an adhesive patch or tape that can be applied like a band-aid over a tattoo.

Several cosmetic products are available to hide tattoos. L’Oréal Paris recommends applying full-coverage foundation and concealer with a blending sponge, then setting it with face powder. A camouflaging makeup such as Dermablend, used to cover scars, skin conditions and birthmarks, is also effective in covering many tattoos. Always use a waterproof makeup remover such as micellar water to clean a tattoo that has been covered with heavy makeup. To avoid developing an infection or damaging tattoo ink, never apply makeup to a fresh tattoo. 

Unless you work in an industry that welcomes skin art, you should check your company’s policy before getting a new tattoo and carefully consider its placement, size and content. If you have a tattoo from years ago that seems like it could be a problem if displayed at work, you have the options of laser removal or covering it up with another tattoo.

Sources: hbr.org, indeed.com, ipsos.com and lorealparisusa.com.