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How to manage an employee with a new tattoo

12th May 2017
Employee Engagement, Human Resources

Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular, particularly those that cover a large area. Whilst many display a high level of skill by the tattoo artist, body art isn’t always welcome in the workplace.

Ink sleeves and large tattoos are so popular it is fairly standard for organisations to have dress and appearance policies which state that for those employees whose job duties bring them into contact with the public, clients, customers and suppliers, tattoos must be covered up.

Imagine that an employee has turned up for work with a new, large, highly visible tattoo. Not only is it a full ink sleeve but it covers part of their wrist and hand too. In your view, their new body art presents an unprofessional image. So, what are your options?

  1. Do nothing at all. The problem here is that it will set a dangerous precedent, not just as to what this employee might do in the future but in how you can tackle similar problems presented by other employees.
  2. Take disciplinary action. In order to do this you must already have implemented a dress and appearance policy that: (1) sets out your rules on tattoos; and (2) states that any breach will be deemed a disciplinary offence and could result in disciplinary action being taken against the employee. We have a great template dress code policy contained within our online HR Toolkit.
  3. Attempt to find a mutually agreeable solution.

A fair dismissal?

If you follow option 2, you must be able to demonstrate that you acted reasonably in all the circumstances, especially if you ultimately decide to dismiss the employee because of their tattoo. In this instance not only must your policy on visible tattoos be reasonable, you must be able to fully justify why your strict standards are necessary. An example is that the employee has a public-facing role and, due to its nature, your business and its employees, must present a professional image at all times.

Compromise

Even if disciplinary action seems appropriate, it’s usually far safer to try to reach a compromise, i.e. option 3. Have a meeting with the employee to discuss a breach of your dress and appearance policy. Explain the problem and ask the employee to find a discreet solution such as wearing long-sleeved tops. You can point out that if a compromise cannot be reached then you may take disciplinary action.

You can’t dismiss an employee simply because you dislike their tattoo or think that it looks unprofessional – you must be able to prove why it is unacceptable in your workplace. If you can’t, any dismissal will be unfair. An example is an employee who works in a warehouse and never sees the public. You might not like their body art but it won’t reflect badly on your business if they are only visible to other employees. The style, nature and content of the tattoos may also be a factor and this should also be clear in any policies – think about if there is any style of tattoo you definitely wouldn’t want in your workplace due to it’s content?

With the fashion of having a tattoo on the increase and the permanent nature of tattoos, you must be confident in your policy and rationale.

If you would like a review of your policy or help with any of the issues raised in this article, please give us a call to discuss your options. Whether it is ad-hoc HR advice, or a help with your strategic HR plan, we’re a friendly bunch and really keen to make a difference to your business by finding a solution that works for you and your business so call us on 01473 360160.

Working with Carole brings all the strength and resources of having your own HR department, right at your fingertips, but only when you need it, she and her team bring a wealth and depth of expertise which I find unsurpassed in my 25 years in business.  In addition her personality and sense of humour brings a sense of fun to the workplace, making working with her a positive part of any working day.