Friday, November 7, 2014

Tattoos in the Workplace

 Several stories have been making their rounds on the Internet regarding people who were not hired because of their tattoos.  Bill Roach was told he would not be getting a job with a company in the medical industry because of his visible ink (, and Charlotte Tumilty, who was turned away on her first day as a teacher's assistant at St, John Vianney Primary School ( because of her tattoos.  Their tattoos are not vulgar or distasteful (relatively), but they are difficult to cover with clothes.

I can clean that up for you and get the color back in if you want.
 The cute blonde girl is getting far more sympathy than the dude in California, but this article is not about the blatant hypocrisy of gender and the Internet, it is about tattoo choices.

 You may be surprised by this, but I believe that the businesses in these stories are in the right. While I think it may be time to adjust such policies due to shifts in the culture, I do stand for the right of a business to have such a policy in place.  An employee on the clock who interacts with the public IS the business in the minds of those they deal with.  If a medical company considers tattoos unprofessional and a school considers them inappropriate, then that is their business (literally).  

 Imagine having some person as your representative who acts on your behalf before you meet potential clients or often people you will never have direct contact with.  "Hi, I am Jason's legal and official representative."  Now imagine that person represents you in a way that is diametrically opposed to who you are.  "Jason, as you know, is a tiny woman with a club foot who hates art in all its forms."  

 See, that would not be cool.

"Hello, ma'am.  I with ABC Med Supply. I have your power chair."
 Both of these people claim that they are being discriminated against, and technically they are correct.  Discrimination is simply a matter of opting for one type and denying another. People who lacked the education or training for those same positions were also discriminated against. People who prefer chocolate ice-cream to vanilla are discriminating. "Discrimination" is a buzzword that is meant to suggest that these folks were unfairly denied employment, and I don't think I can agree with that conclusion.  A business has a right to determine who will represent the business to the public, and the manner and form of that representation.

 Moreover, calling it "discrimination" in this instance is not only petty, but it belittles the many times in history that discrimination was in fact unfair.  Race, ethnicity, and gender are all consequences of birth, and clearly discrimination on those grounds is unfair (the individual had no choice in the matter). Religion is a matter of spirituality that is a consequence of our upbringing and who we are at the core of our being, again uncool to discriminate against. Sexual orientation and gender identity, while not through all the legal hoops to become truly protected, is either a matter of birth, at the core of your being, or both, and businesses should not be allowed to discriminate on those grounds.

Actually, I kind of wish she taught me in grade school.
 But tattoos?  You elected to go under the needle and get your girlfriend's lip prints tattooed on your neck?  That was a choice. You made that choice because that is how you want to represent yourself to the world.  A business may choose to exclude you from the way they present themselves to the world. Also, did you think the tattoo through?  Did you really think a neck tattoo would not have consequences in the corporate world?  I find myself looking at people with neck and facial tattoos and hoping that they are fellow tattooers, otherwise they are almost guaranteeing a career that will have to be outside the mainstream.  Do you want to be represented by someone who is too short sighted to see the consequences of undergoing a permanent transformation of their image? What other choices might they think are "okay" if people would just try to understand them?

 Does it suck that people with tattoos are considered less professional than those who have never felt the sweet kiss of a tattoo needle?  Yes.  In fact, most tattooers I know hold themselves to a higher professional standards than many doctors, lawyers, and CEOs you may hear about. But is it wrong for a business to manage itself based on that premise?  No.  I support a business' right to make those choices, even though I will actively choose not to patronize them if I can (choices have consequences).  

"But I look super-cute at the pub!"
 Think before you ink.  A tattoo is a commitment, even in this age of laser-removal.  A tattoo that cannot be hidden by clothing is even more so.  Society will judge you, and if you could not care less what people think (bravo!), don't whine if what people think keeps you from something you want.  If it means mom and dad will kick you out, or that job you want as a paralegal will be closed to you, don't get a neck tattoo.

 Personally, if I were either of these people, I would work my momentary notoriety into a job with a tattoo friendly employer. 

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more, there is nothing "unfair" about being denied a job for personal life choices that affect your appearance. I love the look of the tattoos, but because I'm working towards a career in the science field, I'm choosing not to get ink on easily visible places like my neck, hands, or wrists. There's plenty of spots on my body that I can easily cover and still have a tattoo, I don't know why this is so hard for people to grasp.

    And also, all tatted up and trying to work at a private Catholic school? Fucking seriously?