Acceptable discrimination? Tattoos in the workplace

New research shows that two thirds of UK recruiters find tattoos an undesirable feature in candidates.

A study by CIPD course providers, DPG Plc., reveals 64 per cent thought that tattoos were undesirable features in candidates.

The study also finds that more than half (54 per cent) of hiring decision makers think that tattoos can have a negative impact on the workplace. The findings highlight the potentially widespread stereotypical judgements facing tattooed candidates – denying them a fair judgement based on their ability to do the job.

The survey also reveals that, next only to scruffiness, tattoos were the feature deemed most likely to limit career potential.

To compound the potential impact such discrimination may have on the UK workforce – not to mention fresh new talent – there is currently no legislation protecting tattooed workers.

This means that not only do snubbed candidates have no recourse should they suspect prejudice, even currently employed workers may be dismissed ‘fairly’ for breaking their dress code.

Key findings

· 43 per cent of hiring decision makers see visible tattoos as being valuable markers for determining a candidate’s character.

· Nearly a third (30 per cent) thought visible tattoos were telling clues in determining a candidate’s predicted performance.

· Male hirers were more discriminatory in all areas of the survey.

· Those over 55 years old were the most likely to see tattoos as undesirable features. They were also most likely to think that tattoos can have a negative impact on the workplace – followed perhaps surprisingly by the youngest age band – the 18-24s.

· In a nice twist, 13 per cent of hiring decision makers would actively choose the tattooed candidate when faced with two equal contenders, and a third (33 per cent) stated that it wouldn’t make a difference.

· DPG surveyed the DPG Community to discover most shocking things they’ve heard said to tattooed employees/candidates, and visualised them as actual tattoos.

Paul Drew, managing director at DPG Plc., says, ‘Dress codes can be an important part of how a business is perceived, but features such as tattoos can be problematic. With such a large amount of the population* possessing tattoos, discrimination represents a very real problem that threatens to limit talented workers from entering the workforce. Moreover, it’s sad to see such a superficial feature being used as a valuable way of assessing a candidate’s attitude and performance.

‘It appears that tattoos are only growing in popularity, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a large discrimination case soon – potentially leading to increased protection for tattooed workers, similar to the recent developments in obesity legislation.

‘What remains to be seen is if companies develop with our country’s interests and fashions or whether a significant portion of the workforce is forced to look elsewhere.’

Further reading on tattoos

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Freddie Halvorson

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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