Star Interview

Has coronavirus changed the view
of tattoos in the workplace?


Tattoos are increasingly common in the modern workplace, but do they stop their owners from getting, or holding down jobs?

Tattoos have traditionally held a certain stigma in the workplace. Whilst the artform’s western origins may have been founded in exotic trips to the orient by the aristocracy of the time, its association with sailors and outlaws in the 20th century, along with visibility in professional settings, creates controversy. In fact, Skinfo data states that 37% of HR managers cite tattoos as the third most-likely factor in limiting career potential, whilst 42% of professionals still deem visible tattoos as inappropriate at work. Yet, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the drastic move to a more remote workforce across the globe, the aesthetics of the average workers have come into question. If workers are remote, does it matter if they have tattoos?

More people feel free to get some ink without the threat of their bosses seeing

In a broader sense, a shift in perception of professionalism has already taken place. In late March, research conducted by NPD Group found that 48% of workers now conduct their duties entirely whilst wearing activewear or ‘sweats’ all day, with 46% reporting that they now work primarily in their pyjamas or loungewear. However, whilst this key trend to a more casual aesthetic focuses on clothing, does that also translate to body art? Rupert Cleaver, a tattoo artist from Hertfordshire, says that since lockdown ended, he’s seen a shift in his customer base. “Over the past decade, there’s been a slow change in who comes through the door. Being just outside of London, we have a lot of commuters coming in, professionals from all sorts of backgrounds. But I do think since we came back [from Government-enforced closure], more people feel free to get some ink without the threat of their bosses seeing,” he says.

 

However, whilst workers may not be in the same office as their bosses, communication still takes place over video conference calls and facetime chats. Many professionals, such as Good Morning America presenter Will Reeve, who made headlines in April for presenting the show from his home wearing a shirt and suit jacket, but also exposing his trouser-less legs on camera, are feeling the need to dress formally only when visible. HR Director at a game developer, Sheetal Joshi, believes that this should also be the case for exposure of tattoos, despite theoretically seeing no issue with workers having tattoos in coverable locations. “I feel they shouldn’t play a role in hiring decisions,” she says. “However, this can be contextual. Some instances when public display of tattoos may be discouraged: 1. Customer facing roles 2. Tattoos that may be offensive to some people due to religious or cultural issues 3. Industry: some industries are more accepting like gaming, while others, like the financial industry, may not be as accepting. In the remote work environment they may be more acceptable. However, similar contextual sensitivity will exist if they are visible on video calls.”

Employees with visible tattoos on video calls may become part of the new normal

And whilst some may disagree with Joshi’s stance, the law concludes that tattoos are not a protected characteristic and therefore, it is up to the employer to decide if they are acceptable. However, David Sheppard, Senior Employment Lawyer at Capital Law, states that whilst tattoos aren’t protected legally, they still may become the new norm. “Tattoos that cause bodily disfigurement are specifically excluded as disabilities by Equality Act regulations. Yet, with working from home, the line between people’s private and professional lives has blurred, presentation standards have slipped, and business attire is a thing of the past – employees with visible tattoos on video calls may become part of the new normal.”


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