Think About Ink


Approximately 45 million Americans have a tattoo, according to Inked magazine, and 40% of Americans ages 26-40 are tattooed. That’s a huge part of the population! So, can you fire someone based on a tattoo? The simple answer is, “yes.” But, first you should really review your mission, values, and culture and figure out your company’s policy regarding tattoos.

We know for sure that people from all walks of life are now getting tattoos and that it has no bearing on a person’s intelligence or ability to do their job well. But, tattoos can still trigger a negative connotation with some customers based on religion, culture, age, etc. A business owner has to balance the needs of their customers with the needs of their employees. Here are some things to consider:

YOUR COMPANY’S MISSION, VALUES, AND CULTURE: Truly, everything starts at this point. Are you more casual? Or are you buttoned down with suits and ties? What is the nature of your business? Do tattoos fit with the visual impression you wish to convey? Or are there certain kinds of tattoos that clash with your brand? All of should inform your tattoo policy. It’s only common sense that a very corporate, conservative culture might not be as amenable to tattoos. A coffee house may be more liberal with tattoos than a fine dining establishment. If you promote diversity and inclusion, perhaps certain tattoos might send a contrary message. It’s important that you know your mission and values and have them in writing so they can help be a filter for policy decisions.

YOUR CUSTOMERS: Are you more behind the scenes or more public facing? What demographic do you appeal to? Do you have a diverse customer base or a more conservative crowd? The bottom line is that you always want to make sure that your core customers are comfortable. Disney, which operates worldwide to every conceivable demographic, disallows visible tattoos. They promote a “friendly, classic appearance” that appeals to the variety of customers they serve.

YOUR DRESS CODE: In essence, tattoos can be bundled in what you consider your company’s dress code. If you’re asking employees to wear buttoned-down shirts, conservative makeup, and little jewelry, you’re probably not going to want visible tattoos. If your dress code is more liberal, than tattoos may be just fine. If you don’t have a dress code, you may want to implement one. This isn’t so much about bureaucracy. It’s more about protecting yourself and employees from embarrassing situations where expectations aren’t well understood.

PUT YOUR INK POLICIES IN INK: Because tattoos are so prominent these days, you’d be remiss if you didn’t have a policy on tattoos. Do you wish to prohibit visible tattoos altogether? That’s okay, but you must make it clear in your employment/hiring policies and know that you may miss out on talent. Will you require that tattoos always be covered? That’s also fine, but consider if that’s comfortable for employees in your work environment and what you’ll do about tattoos on the face or hands. Read other companies’ policies and draft yours based on their success, or hire a company such as The Resource Squad to help you write something that works for you. No matter what, be consistent with how you enforce your tattoo policy! If an employee wants to consider tattoo removal, maybe you can offer a Flexible Spending Account to assist them with this.

POLICY VIOLATIONS: If it is very clear to employees and potential employees that you do not want visible tattoos in the workplace, they need to agree to cover them. Giving them the option to cover with clothing or makeup is a reasonable accommodation for tattoos that might have religious or other significance. If they refuse to cover their tattoos, and it’s clearly written in your policies that visible tattoos are not allowed, then an employee can be disciplined and dismissed based on violation of agreed-upon policies.

Bottom line, tattoos are up to you. Just be clear on what you think about ink and that your policies properly reflect your mission and culture. We’ll talk about piercings later!