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Tattoos and Piercings in the Workplace

by Jesus Delgado, Career Ambassador, ‘24 Oct 25, 2021

Do you have a tattoo? Do you have a piercing? Do you want to get a tattoo and/or piercing? Whether you yourself answered “yes” to any of these questions or you know someone else who would, it is important to understand how tattoos and piercings fit in the workplace.

First things first, understand that an employer has a right to establish a dress code for his or her organization. An employer usually has the right to request that you remove jewelry or cover up a tattoo while working. And, because many business leaders and managers are older, they may still hold onto the view that body art is a form of youthful delinquency and therefore may see it as unprofessional. Unless religiously needed, employment rules do not protect people with tattoos or piercings. This means you will most likely fail in bringing a discrimination claim if you were fired due to a body art-related issue.

That said, certain careers and companies do accept- and even welcome- those with body art. Body art is often popular in the creative arts, such as music, painting, writing, and acting. Furthermore, it is also popular in the athletic, design, and culinary fields. Some companies that promote a young and “progressive” image may be more accepting of such body art. However, some professions fall on the other end of the spectrum. For example, in the medical and legal fields, patients or clients may feel uncomfortable or be untrusting of their doctors or lawyers with visible body art. So, employers will enforce bans on tattoos and extra piercings.

For this reason, it’s critically important to research any employer you are interested in and learn about their company culture, that way you know you will be a good fit in their organization- body art and all.

How to minimize the impact of body art in your future employment:

  1. Choose a small, noncontroversial design. Besides the obvious financial savings of not getting a large tattoo, a small tattoo will allow you to test your comfortability levels with it and won’t be distracting in a professional setting. You also don’t want to get any offensive words or pictures on your body which could turn off an employer. Remember, if you are ashamed to show the design to your mother, you should probably reconsider.
  2. Get body art that can be covered. If you are reading this blog and are concerned about body art in the workplace, then I would recommend not getting any tattoos on your face, hands, or forearms. Likewise, don’t get any “extreme piercings,” like vampire teeth or horns.

Now, let’s say you don’t have time-traveling powers and didn’t read this blog before getting body art done. Here are some tips for you:

  1. Cover it. This one is probably the simplest solution. Hopefully, your clothes cover most of your tattoos. But if not, you can cover any visible tattoos with bandages or make-up. Regarding piercings, if it’s possible and safe to do so, leave them at home during work or an interview- remember, you don’t want to possibly leave a negative impression on the interviewer.
  2. Look for a job where appearance is unimportant. If you are heavily tattooed, have extensive body piercings, or have visible inappropriate body art, you may not be a good candidate in certain positions where interaction with the public is necessary and frequent. But don’t forget that you should seek a workplace where you feel comfortable being yourself. Most likely, you’ll be happier in a job that accepts your body art. So, look for a job where you will be accepted for who you are and will promote your individuality.
  3. Remove it. As a last resort, you can have your tattoo surgically removed. But, unless you regret your tattoo or must remove it to advance your specific profession, your body art is an expression of who you are and what you stand for, and you should not feel compelled to get rid of it. Plus, not only is tattoo removal expensive and time-consuming, but it’s also incredibly painful. Similarly, while some piercings are easy to remove during the workday, some are not, and would require a more permanent removal. Make sure you consider whether that is a removal you are willing to make before you accept a job that would require such a decision.

I want to end this post with our university’s motto: “Be who you are and be that well.” Whatever body art you have is an expression of yourself. While, yes, there are burdens you may have to face in your professional career, you should find a job somewhere where you feel valued and accepted. If you feel that your body art is critical to your identity, find a job that treats it as such.

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