Making your mark at work — the great tattoo debate

By Helen Burgess

Following the deportation by the Sri Lankan authorities of a British tourist because she had a Buddha tattoo on her arm, we look at the issue of tattoos in the workplace, and whether employers should, or indeed must, allow employees to have tattoos.

The issue for the Sri Lankan authorities was the alleged insult to Buddhism caused by the tattoo. However, in the UK the main issue employers tend to have with tattoos is the perceived or actual brand or reputational damage if their tattooed employees are dealing with customers face to face. This in itself highlights the potential tension between what is accepted in society at large (think David Beckham’s many and varied tattoos and Cheryl Cole’s more recent floral design) versus the workplace, given that tattoos are now popular and commonplace in the UK.

Some employers go so far as to include reference to the acceptability of tattoos in their uniform or dress code policy; but can employers really be as prescriptive as to ban employees getting a tattoo or even dismiss or refuse to employ someone who already has a tattoo? …

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