Are Tattoos Taboo?

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Posted in:HR and Employment|October 23, 2012 | Join the mailing list

Last week the head of the Metropolitan Police implemented a new policy which bans officers and staff from getting visible tattoos. This is said to be because tattoos "damage the professional image" of the force and its policy on appearance
is said to be in an effort to promote consistency.

The memo sent to officers and civilian staff made clear they must not get any more visible tattoos and declare all those they currently have within a month, or face a disciplinary hearing.

If, as an employer, you have concerns about the image staff are portraying by the way they dress or their appearance generally, it may be worth implementing a dress code to establish basic guidelines on appropriate clothing and appearance
within your workplace. Depending on the type of industry, dress codes may also need to take into account health and safety requirements.

However, when drawing up and implementing a dress code within your organisation, it is important that you respect religious, racial and gender-specific clothing requirements and those of staff with disabilities where possible, unless the
particular dress code requirements are justified. It is also important to stay focused on the business issues at hand. For example, policies that prohibit tattoos should not reflect value judgments about tattoos or the people who get them.

If you are thinking of implementing a dress/appearance policy within your workplace, you should take into account the following points:

1. Consider an employee’s ability to perform the role. If an employee’s appearance hinders them from effectively carrying out their duties, employers are within their rights to require the employees not to wear the relevant item of dress.
If employers are going to assert that an employee’s ability to perform is impeded by a particular form of appearance, they will need to provide some evidence of this.

2. Be proactive. It is important for employers to address legitimate concerns they have about an employee’s dress, or indeed other aspects of an employee’s behaviour, proactively at the earliest opportunity with the relevant employee. If
employers delay, the prospects of them later being able to argue successfully that their concerns are non-discriminatory will be significantly reduced.

3. Be wary of discrimination claims. To deny someone a job because of a particular characteristic or attribute they hold can amount to unlawful discrimination. Furthermore, policies regarding appearance should be applied consistently to all
job candidates and employees, unless there is a very good reason to the contrary.

4. Beware of victimisation claims. Even where employees bring wholly unfounded allegations of direct and/or indirect discrimination, if they can show that, after making the allegations, they were treated less favourably than other people,
they may still be able to bring a successful claim of victimisation.

Employers should not ignore tricky issues in the sensitive area of dress codes and appearance, but should aim to resolve potential issues fairly and as soon as they appear. Even with the best of intentions, it is a difficult area to deal
with and seeking specialist, legal advice at the earliest opportunity is also a good idea.

To discuss how we can provide further advice in connection with these issues, please contact Nigel Crebbin, a Partner in our Employment Team, by email to or alternatively you can call Nigel on 0161 833 9211.

The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice.  No responsibility for this article’s accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees.  Professional legal
advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of the contents of this article.

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