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Tattoos and piercings – is your SME losing out on talent because of appearance?

Tattoos and piercings – is your SME losing out on talent because of appearance?

Your organisation could be losing out on top talent because of personal perception.

Date: Friday 7th October 2016

Recently there have been many articles written about employers missing out on talent due to prejudices against tattoos and body piercings.  This suggests that employers are ‘behind the times’ when it comes to such ‘body modifications’ and still take a negative view when hiring potential employees with tattoos or piercings.  So are employers missing out on crucial talent for their businesses because of these prejudices?

A recent report by ACAS and Kings College, has brought this important issue to light.  They explored employer perceptions on staff appearance at work and found that visible body modifications such as piercings or tattoos are likely to be frowned upon in some areas of the service sector.  The employer worried about how these may appear to potential customers and which may put customers ‘off’ buying products in some cases. 

However, with this comes resentment from those employees with such modifications about being judged purely on their appearance rather than on their skills and the attributes they can bring to that business.  Many employees said that they either tried to conceal their tattoo or piercing or left the company to find a more empathetic employer. 

So what impact does this have on hiring?

With some employers being prejudiced against those who have body modifications, it means that these organisations could be missing out on top talent.  Although not a discriminatory offence, as tattoos and piercings are not one of the protected characteristics and therefore not included in the Equality Act 2010, organisations are losing out nonetheless on emerging top talent and potentially breaching human rights.  Almost a third of young people in the UK now have tattoos.  This means the pool of talent is automatically shrunk for those employers who have negative perceptions of those with tattoos and piercings.

On the other hand there has been a steady increase of employers who have changed their views according to a recent survey by Xpert HR.  Around 41% of organisations surveyed said that tattoos and piercings were allowed within their organisation.  Large companies including Starbucks and McDonalds have recently relaxed their views also, embracing such diversity within the workforce which they say represents part of their customer base. 

So how can your SME avoid offending or indeed limiting your talent pool when it comes to recruiting and retaining your staff?

  1. Keep an open mind – don’t judge a book by its cover.  Just because someone doesn’t ‘conform’ to your idea of appearances, do not discount them without taking a proper look at their skills.  After all, if they’ve managed to make it to interview stage you must have seen something in their CV which you felt could benefit your business.
  2. When hiring, take into consideration the type of role they are applying for.  If you have legitimate concerns over their appearance e.g. for health and safety reasons, then discuss this openly with them so they have a chance to put their case forward. 
  3. Outline clear policies on what is and isn’t allowed and consult staff as to how these decisions have been reached.  There are some roles where some body piercings may not be appropriate for the type of role for example in the medical profession or manufacturing because they pose a health and safety hazard.  This should be clearly outlined in your policy.
  4. Try not to disgruntle your employees as you could be in breach of the Human Rights Act which could lead employees to feel detached and therefore lead to a dip in workplace productivity.
  5. Open communication is needed between management and employees to effectively communicate viewpoints and to outline the concerns of both the employer and employee.  An informal setting to do this would be preferred rather than a formal procedure which could be viewed more negatively.

Whichever way you approach this subject, it can be particularly sensitive if not handled with care and could land you in hot water in breaching the human rights of your employees.  If you are unsure as to the conduct and wording of your staff handbooks or policies then please seek advice.

If you would like impartial advice about how this could have implications for HR purposes or employee relations then our friendly HR Professionals are able to help.  Please contact us for a no obligation chat on 0207 977 9200 or email

Aisha Oakley is Head of HR Outsourcing at the Bradfield Group with over 15 years’ experience of advising businesses on how to manage and implement HR in both large and small businesses across a range of sectors.


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