Can I refuse to hire someone with tattoos?

Can I refuse to hire someone with tattoos?

3 July 2018 With tattoos an increasingly common sight, especially on millennials, what are your options when it comes to allowing ‘ink’ in the workplace?

It’s an increasingly common scenario: after spending hours deciding which job applicants to interview, you walk into the interview room to find your perfect-on-paper applicant is accessorising their interview outfit with a visible tattoo (or three).

Like it or not, tattoos are becoming increasingly popular, with a 2013 study by social researchers McCrindle finding that 12% of all Australians had one or more tattoos. Not surprisingly, the figure is much higher in younger demographics: a National Health and
Medical Research study found that almost one in four 30 to 39-year-old men had one or more tattoos. And while tradies and unskilled workers are most likely to have tattoos (23.1% and 18.1% respectively), almost one in 10 white collar professionals (9.4%) have been inked.

The survey also found that women in their 20s are more likely to have tattoos than men in the same age group.

Popularity notwithstanding, the question of whether visible tattoos are acceptable in the workplace remains controversial. While the number of people who have tattoos suggests that general community standards are more accepting of tattoos than in the past, many businesses worry about the effect an employee with tattoos will have on their "corporate image".

Establishing guidelines


“Whether you find tattoos acceptable in your workplace will depend on a number of factors, including the kind of business you run, the type of work employees perform and whether they have contact with customers,” says Fiona Corbett, national manager Workplace Advice, NSW Business Chamber.

“Many workplaces choose to include guidelines around tattoos in their dress code.

“The most common policy on tattoos is that they shouldn’t be visible, however this can cause problems when tattoos are on parts of the body that aren’t readily covered, such as the neck and hands, or when they are revealed by a corporate uniform.”

In some industries such as hospitality and retailing, particularly in businesses targeting millennial customers, allowing employees to show off their tattoos can actually make you more attractive to your customers. If you choose to allow visible tattoos in the workplace, it’s worth noting in your dress code that some tattoos have the potential to cause offence, such as images or words that are pornographic, racially-vilifying or demeaning.

“You are within your rights to ask an employee to conceal a tattoo, or refuse to employ them if it reasonably likely that other people who had contact with the employee would be offended,” says Corbett.

A best practice policy on tattoos will mention the need to avoid breaches relating to pornography, racial vilification and defamation and include some specific examples of what is and is not acceptable.

Having a clear policy on tattoos means that an employer may also have grounds for disciplinary action, including dismissal, if an employee gets a new one that breaches the policy.

“In such cases, you will need to show that the policy is valid and that your business could be damaged (eg loss of customers) if you didn’t take action,” says Corbett.

“Looking at alternatives such as whether you can move the employee to a behind-the-scenes role, may be a better option.”

Is banning tattoos discriminatory?


Discriminating against an employee because of a tattoo worn for racial or religious reasons – which includes forcing the employee to conceal it – could amount to unlawful discrimination on the ground of race or religious beliefs.

“It’s also important to apply your policy across the board to prevent claims of discrimination,” adds Corbett.

This article originally appeared on the NSW Business Chamber website. WorkplaceInfo is owned by the chamber.

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