News and Events

Are We Discriminating Against Potential Employees Without Even Realising?

View profile for Catherine Almeida
  • Posted
  • Author

When it comes to body modifications, such as tattoos or piercings, in certain industries questions are often raised regarding employer and employee rights: what they can and can’t ask their employee to cover or remove 

Although tattoos, piercings and other body modifications are not protected under the Equality Act 2010, it is important to consider possible challenges on the grounds of a breach of human rights. 

An employer can legally establish a dress code for their organisation and if this dress code does not allow for body piercings, they have the right to request that an employee removes the related jewellery whilst at work. And whilst you can't remove a tattoo, an employer can request that it be covered.

However, recent research by ACAS shows that some employers are not in touch with the public's changing attitudes towards tattoos and piercings. In some sectors, tattoos and piercings are frowned upon for fear of how they’ll be viewed by customers and clients. 

There could also be a risk that a prospective employee’s appearance affects the recruitment process. There may be occasions where a potential employee could be overlooked as a result of their tattoos and piercings, despite being extremely talented. With changing fashions, does this mean that employers could be missing out on employing the best people for the job? 

Fashions have changed drastically over the years. We’ve come a long way since women wearing trousers was frowned upon; we’ve embraced individuality and equal rights for both genders. So now may be the time to look at your work force and perhaps modernise your policies.

As an employer, your policies must clearly state what you will allow, and be clear in your decisions for this if they are challenged; provide explanations as to how these decisions have been reached and where possible involve employees in decision-making.

Within your policies, a complete tattoo and piercing ban may not be the answer, however ensuring you have a more modern guideline on what is acceptable in your dress code could be the solution to move forward with the times. This could include no visible tattoos on the face or a caveat that nose piercings are acceptable as long as they are discrete. This ensures that the rights and individual identity of the employee are not affected but maintains a professional, public identity of the organisation in question. 

For detailed advice about outsourced HR support and issues such as discrimination, contact our Employment & HR Services team on 03333 208644 or via email: