It seems that dress codes are never too far from the headlines these days whether it be regarding banning religious dress, requiring employees to wear high heels, or encouraging employers who ban tattoos at work to reconsider their approach.

Recent studies indicate that up to 30% of under-24 year olds have tattoos and that a fifth of people under 40 have been inked. ACAS has suggested that employers who ban tattoos or who will not hire employees with visible body art are potentially missing out on bringing talented individuals on board and that it is time for a change in attitudes.

Employers who ban visible tattoos at work might want to revisit their reasons for doing so.Businesses are entitled to form their own rules on appearance at work but, as ACAS points out, these should be based on the needs of the business and not managers' personal preferences.

The approach to tattoos at work varies considerably across sectors and individual businesses with some organisations having concerns around how tattoos might impact on their corporate image and professionalism.Employers still wishing to restrict or prohibit visible tattoos in the workplace should:

  • Have a dress code which makes clear what is and what is not acceptable e.g. is there a zero-tolerance approach or is there a distinction between customer-facing and back-office roles?
  • Think about the business reasons for banning tattoos. Having a clear reason for a ban will help justify any associated recruitment and disciplinary decisions.
  • Bear in mind the discrimination risks. There is no law protecting tattooed employees from being discriminated against solely on the grounds that they have a tattoo. However, those who are tattooed for religious reasons may be able to bring a claim of discrimination. There is also a risk that younger employees might attempt to argue that the practice of banning tattoos, whilst applicable to the entire workforce, indirectly affects them more than others and so is indirectly discriminatory. Where a discrimination risk is identified, consider whether you can show that the restriction is objectively justified (as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim).

Users of Workbox, the employment team's online HR site,can access detailed FAQs on dress codes, along with a template dress code to adapt for your organisation, on our Dress Codes page.


Julie Keir

Practice Development Lawyer