Kate has over eight years of experience as an employment and personal injury legal executive. She runs LawCat, a legal explanations website.
I have received a fair few queries regarding tattoos in the workplace recently. Most of these queries have been concerning the hiring and firing of people with tattoos. Other inquiries have come from people who are concerned that they may be being passed over for promotion or other opportunities because they have tattoos.
It is now apparent that being tattooed can affect people who are employed or looking for employment. This article will explain how the law stands regarding those of us who have tattoos and how this affects our employment rights.
Is It Legal For an Employer to Fire You Because of Your Tattoo?
Yes, it is legal for your employer to fire you because you have a tattoo. You can also be fired for getting a tattoo while employed or for revealing one that you got previously but had kept covered till now.
This may seem very especially unfair if you have worked in a job for many years and you are good at it, happy in your work and have a good working relationship with your co-workers and your boss. However, a company or employer may wish to present a certain image to the public, and your tattoo may not be part of that image. Some employers will request that if you have a tattoo, you keep it covered, either with clothing or plasters. Others will remove you from the workplace, and they are within their legal rights to do so.
If you are employed and do not have a tattoo but are considering getting one in an area that could become visible (e.g. your arm, leg, or neck), then it would be wise to ask your employer about whether this will affect your job first. While it may feel stifling not to be able to decorate your body the way you choose—it is your body, after all—you may need to consider your priorities and potentially delay getting a tattoo or consider changing jobs.
Is It Legal to Deny Someone a Job Because They Have a Tattoo?
Yes, employers are entitled not to hire you because you have a tattoo. If you attend an interview with your tattoo covered and then reveal it after you have got the job, the employer is legally entitled to rescind the offer of employment. As mentioned above, it is entirely up to your employer whether or not your tattoo fits with their company image.
Isn’t Firing Someone Because of a Tattoo a Type of Discrimination?
It is not discrimination, as a tattoo is not a disability or a protected characteristic. A tattoo is something you chose to have, and while a tattoo will not make you any better or worse at your job, and many are beautiful pieces of art, tattoos do have a certain connotation in society and are rarely seen as professional.
If you are refused work or fired from your job because of a tattoo, it may feel like you are being discriminated against for the way you look, which is deeply distressing, but this does not qualify as discrimination. The Equality Act of 2010 states that for an action to be considered discrimination, it must fall under one of the nine characteristics listed in the Act. Only then will it be considered unlawful under the Act. At the time of writing, tattoos are not one of the nine listed features.
It has been argued in several forums that tattoos should be protected under the act. This has occurred many times and with such passion that the Act has been amended via a schedule to specifically excluded tattoos. In this schedule, it states that tattoos cannot be considered severe disfigurement (a protected characteristic, as a severe disfigurement qualifies as a disability under the act) and so are not protected.
One day, the law may change to prevent people from being fired or not hired because of a tattoo. The law often changes to reflect society, and if the historically unprofessional connotation of tattoos changes, the law may well change to reflect that. It is doubtful, however, that this protection will come from the Equality Act, which purposefully protects people from discrimination suffered because of something they did not choose and cannot help.
I Wasn’t Told I Couldn’t Have a Tattoo. Can I Still Be Fired?
Yes, you can still be fired even if you were unaware of your employer’s policy on tattoos. While it would be good practice for an employer to include their policies on tattoos in your contract or the company handbook, it is not stated in the law that they must do so.
If you are unsure about where your employer stands on the issues of tattoos, then you should speak with them to clarify before you get a tattoo or reveal one that you already have.
In conclusion, an employer has a lot of discretion when it comes to tattoos. It is entirely possible and legal for you to be denied a job because you have a tattoo or fired from a job because you have a tattoo. Being fired or denied employment because of your tattoo is not considered discrimination legally in the UK. This may change in the future, however, as there are many petitions and campaigns out there that want the law to change.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Katie (author) from Norfolk, UK on July 23, 2018:
It can be a difficult situation, people in a better world we wouldn't be judged on our appearances but unfortunately, at this point in time, humanity will make judgements based on someones appearances and business will often want to present a certain professional image to the world that doesn't always coincide with a persons preference in body art.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 19, 2018:
I agree with what you say. I've only got 1 small tattoo on the top of my left arm, but wouldn't consider getting any large ones. It all depends on the job. I can understand why someone would be turned down or fired because of tattoo's.