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Issues of Tattoos in the Workplace

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Employment
Wordcount: 2337 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 “For over three hundred years, tattoos have been viewed as a deviant act, one that causes individuals to associate those with tattoos with risky and foolish behavior” says Ashely Hilliker (62). Body modifications, specifically tattoos have become more and more prevalent in recent years, at least from what I can see. Ever since I got my sleeve I’ve witnesses the stigma placed on tattoos first hand. I have been in situations where I have been denied employed because of my tattoos. While I understand that there is a level of professionalism to be maintained within certain occupations, I personally don’t think visible tattoos should be the sole reason someone is denied employment. I believe, that even though tattoos are becoming more common, there is still a stigma place on individuals with visible tattoos in regard to the workplace in today’s society to some extent and I will prove it by looking at reasons why employers are rejecting employees due to their visible tattoos, determining the attitudes and perceptions of employers toward prospect employees who have visible tattoos, and then looking at the legal aspects as well as generational differences.

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 As stated earlier, I have witnessed the stigma placed on tattoos in the workplace first hand. While searching for my first job when I was sixteen, I didn’t have any tattoos, but I had gauges in my ears. I was told by the employer at my interview that he would refuse to hire me if I didn’t take my gauges out. They only allowed their employees to have one single ear piercing in the lobe area and those earrings were only permitted if they were studs, therefore no dangly earrings, hoops or anything of that sort. Being young and, I guess you could say dumb, I refused to take them out and was denied employment with the employer. I also had a serving job at Amazing Joe’s in Muncie, Indiana and while they allowed small, visible tattoos, they wouldn’t allow me to show my tattoos while I was working. I was required to either wear a long sleeve shirt or I had to order an arm sleeve for my tattoo that I had to wear during each shift. I was annoying, however, I complied. That brings me to my first point of why employers are rejecting potential employees due to the fact that they have visible tattoos. One study found that “hiring managers would not hire a person with a visible tattoo, because it would taint the company’s image – and they don’t like them” (Mehta 1). In this study, I don’t personally concur that it would reflect the company’s image in a negative light. I recognize that professional businesses have an overall appearance they want to comply with, however I have a difficult time believing that one person with visible tattoos is going to impact the entire company’s image. To be completely truthful, I personally think that tattoos should deter guests or clients from entering an establishment. For instance, when I worked at Amazing Joe’s, I battled with this problem in my head quite often. I genuinely didn’t see someone refusing to come have dinner there just because I had visible tattoos. An article in BBC News Magazine asked individuals if they experienced discrimination against people with tattoos. One of the ladies, Karla Valentine, a thirty-five year- old mid-day assistant at a school, had numerous tattoos. She was given the job during the winter months, so her tattoos weren’t visible, but as the summer months rolled around, she was told that her visible tattoos “were not setting a good example and should be covered up” (2). She later resigned from school because she said, “I don’t believe I should have to fight to justify that I’m a hard worker and a decent person” (2).

 Furthermore, I want to attempt to determine the attitudes and perceptions of employers toward prospect employees who have visible tattoos. To kick things off, I wanted to give you a visual of some attitudes toward people with tattoos. Below is a graph included in Ashley Hilliker’s research journal including the following characteristic: more rebellious, less attractive, less respectful and less presentable. A blog created by Vinita Mehta in September of 2018 simply asked the question “Are People with Tattoos Stigmatized?” Mehta focused on a study done by Kristin Broussard and Helen Harton. Both ladies found that “pejorative perceptions of tattooed people abound, including having negative personality characteristics, lower levels of inhibition, competence, and sociability, and higher levels of promiscuity” (1). The study also found that particularly women with tattoos are looked down on more than men are. Research also shows that women with tattoos are seen as less intellectual, more immoral, heavy drinkers, less caring and less honest (1). Regardless of how society views people with tattoos, I know that none of those characteristics apply to me and I have several visible tattoos. I am not a heavy drinker, I’m not a promiscuous person, and I’m very honest, caring and intelligent. I find it very disturbing that people form opinions of others, and in this case those opinions are typically negative, because that individual has tattoos. Just because someone has tattoos does not make them a bad person, it just makes them, in most cases, someone that wants to freely express significant parts of their lives. On the other hand, I do understand that first impressions are vital and unfortunately appearance embodies people’s first impressions. People color their hair all the time, others get breast implants or other forms of plastic surgery, some get Botox to get rid of wrinkles or make their lips look bigger, all of which are things people do in order to make themselves feel better about themselves. So, my question, to sum up my entire argument, is if all those things are so widely accepted and potentially even inspired, then why are tattoos associated with negativity or unprofessionalism. 

 Undoubtedly there have been several accounts of applicants with visible tattoos being denied employment, but what are the consequences for the employers? A professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, Stephen Allred, said that there have been several claims made by applicants and employees claiming that the denial of employment was a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of speech, Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (475). There are two different cases that I want to address. The first, Riggs vs. City of Fort Worth, officer Michael Riggs worked as in a bike-patrol unit in which officers were allowed to wear short sleeves and shorts. However, Riggs, who had several visible tattoos, was instructed not to because Fort Worth police chief alleged that it was unprofessional. Because of the demands, he experienced heat exhaustion and later claimed this was a violation of his Equal Protection rights. The court did not concur with Briggs and concluded that, “the police chief had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons” (Allred, 476). Back in 2005, Red Robin denied server Edward Rangel, any accommodation in his practice of Kemeticism, an ancient Egyptian religion. During a religious ritual, was given two tattoos on his wrists written in Coptic and represented his devotion and servitude to his faith. Rangel argued that covering the tattoos would be a sin. Despite his tattoos, he went six months without being criticized or instructed to cover his tattoos. Upon refusal to conceal the tattoos, he was terminated. The EEOC then helped Rangel pursue a case stating that their decision to not accommodate the religious need of an employee was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, requiring employers to make modifications to policies for religious beliefs unless it would cause excessive hardships to the business. Red Robin settled a lawsuit for $150,000 and was held in compliance to make significant changes to policies regarding religious beliefs (Elzwig, Peeples 17). After thoroughly analyzing the two cases provided above, among several other related cases, employers should strongly consider altering their policies regarding hiring practices. Employers ought to acknowledge that tattoos are becoming increasingly popular in today’s society, and likewise stigmas places on individuals with tattoos are being lifted.

 Tattoos have been around for years and years. While they haven’t always been very popular, they date back to 5,300 years ago, which belonged to the Iceman mummy. The study allowed them to identify sixty-one tattoos on numerous parts of the mummy’s body (Samadelli et al. 753-758). I saw a generational difference within my family when I first got my tattoo. I remember my aunt told me that if I got anymore tattoos on my body she would “smack me so hard it would knock my sister out.” To make matters even worse, my grandma told me that my body was a temple and I should never destroy it by doing things like getting tattoos. A few generations ago, tattoos were mainly associated with gangs, violence, bikers, and other what some might view as low-life people. In 2006 a study was performed by the Pew Research Center in which they considered a group of people born between 1981 and 1988 known as Generation Next, another group born between 1966 and 1980 known as Generation X and baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965. The study discovered that of the baby boomers’ group, ten percent declared that they had gotten a tattoo at some point in their lives; on the other hand, when they compared Generation X and Generation Next, they discovered that twenty-two percent of Generation X and thirty percent of Generation Next claimed to have gotten a tattoo at some point (Elzwig, Peeples 13). Obviously trying to determine the number of individuals with tattoos can be very difficult, I can allege that tattoos are becoming increasingly more and more popular. A Harris Poll conducted in 2008 considered thoughts and opinions toward individuals with visible tattoos. “The 2008 Harris Poll indicated that 32% of people aged 25 to 29 had a tattoo, 25% of those aged 30 to 39 had tattoos, 12% of those aged 40 to 49, 8% of those aged 50 to 54, and 9% of those aged 65 and over” (Elzwig, Peeples 14). Based on the information, studies and data above, I conclude that there is a far more significant number of millennials with tattoos as opposed to groups such as baby boomers or Generation X. Tattoos have become more and more common in today’s society. 

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 After looking at the reasons why employers are rejecting employees due to their visible tattoos, determining the attitudes and perceptions of employers toward prospect employees who have visible tattoos, and then looking at the legal aspects as well as generational differences, I conclude that there is a stigma places on individuals with visible tattoos in regard to the workplace in today’s society. Hiring managers are vouching to say that tattoos would flaw the overall image of the company, likewise, for hundreds of years, society has linked tattoos with precarious and reckless behavior. However, tattoos have had a significant rise in popularity, so I expect more court cases similar to the ones above. I want to offer up a piece of advice that I have for my peers considering adding some artwork to their bodies, as well as for employers in relation to prospect employees. While I don’t have a single regret about my tattoos, in fact, I love them more and more every single day, people need to understand the present attitudes and perceptions of tattoos, particularly as it correlates with employment practices. In contrast, employers may want to think about altering their dress codes and onboarding practices that specifically forbid visible tattoos because as state in The Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, Volume 13, “as body adornment becomes more mainstream, good potential applicants may be overlooked with policies that automatically rule out these candidates” (Dale et al. 75).

Works Cited

  • Allred, Stephen. “Rejecting the Tattooed Applicant, Disciplining the Tattooed Employee: What Are the Risks?” Fall 2016, 475-480.
  • Dale, Larry R, et al. “Body Adornment: A Comparison of the Attitudes of Businesspeople and Students in Three States.” Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, vol. 13, no.1, 2009, pp. 75.
  • Elzwig, Brian. “Tattoos and Piercings: Issues of Body Modification and the Workplace.” SAM Advanced Management Journal, Winter 2011, pp. 13-14.
  • Hamilton, Madison. “The Professional Prejudice Against Tattoos.” The Huffington Post, 6 Dec. 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/madison-hamilton/the-professional-prejudic_b_5022697.html.
  • Hilliker, Ashley. “Tattoos in the Workplace.” Indiana University South Bend Undergraduate Research Journal, vol. 12, 2012, pp. 62-65.
  • Mehta, Vinita. “Are People with Tattoos Stigmatized?” Psychology Today, 28 Sep. 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/head-games/201809/are-people-tattoos-stigmatized.
  • Mendez, Misty L. Attitudes toward Tattoos in the Workplace. Dissertation, Angelo State University. 2015.
  • Samadelli, Marco, et al. “Complete Mapping of the Tattoos of the 5300-Year-Old Tyrolean Iceman, vol. 16, no. 5, Fall 2015, pp. 753-758.
  • Valentine, Karla. “I Lost a Job because of My Tattoos.” BBC News. 22 Sep. 2014. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29211526.


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