A few weeks ago one of my relatives posted a message on Facebook that said something like this: 'People shouldn't judge my eligibility for employment based on my tattoos.' Without even thinking about it, I responded with, 'The reality is that for some environments, visible tattoos are just not appropriate.' Tayte didn't think that it was right that she was effectively being 'forced' into certain types of work because her body art was ruling herself out for more corporate roles. She has a great attitude, she works hard and she has good technical skills – so why is it OK to discriminate against her because of how she looks?
Are employers allowed to demand that tattoos not be visible in the workplace?
Generally, yes. However, there are rules about discriminating against people based on race, and if tattoos hold particular cultural significance to a race of people, then an employer is at risk of racial discrimination if they demand an employee of this race to cover their tattoos or reject employment based on those tattoos. An example of this would be the cultural importance of ta moko to Maori.
What you should do if you have tattoos and you want to work in a corporate environment?
Expect to cover them up. If you are interviewing for a new role, take care to dress in a way that covers any tattoos – wear long pants or dark tights to cover ankle tattoos, long sleeves to hide art on your arms, and ensure collars/shirts cover tattoos on your shoulders or neck.
Give consideration to the industry that you are looking to work in – some industries are more conservative than others. For example, management consulting firms tend to be extremely conservative in dress code and advertising companies less so.
It is much harder to manage tattoos that you cannot hide with clothing. If you have tattoos on your face, hands or neck that cannot be covered up, you are likely to find it harder to gain work in a corporate or professional services environment. And unless you can claim cultural significance, employers are able to discriminate against your body art.