Your Boss Still Isn't Cool With Your Visible Tattoo

As far as the law is concerned, firing an employee for visible tattoos or piercings is completely legit.


A recent Harris Poll survey found that one out of every three Americans has at least one tattoo. And unsurprisingly millennials are getting tats at a much higher rate than any other age demographic.

The poll not only shows a remarkable shift in terms of who is getting tattoos, but also in people’s perception about tattooed people. The frequency of tattoos was evenly spread across political affiliation, geography, and — most surprisingly — parents were almost twice as likely to have spent time in the tattoo chair as people without kids. A majority of respondents, regardless if they have tattoos themselves, reported they would trust teachers, coaches, accountants, and even presidential candidates with body ink.

However, as the nation spends more time in tattoo parlors — and largely gets more comfortable with other people sporting ink — employers are still showing the same traditional aversion to hiring or keeping employees with visible tattoos. While the Harris Poll shows that the majority of respondents are comfortable seeing tattoos on people — even in white-collar professions like doctors and lawyers — over 60% of human resources professionals responded that visible tattoos would have a negative impact on the chances of the applicant being hired.

Even if a person with tattoos is hired, employers have the right to ban visible tattoos as a part of a company-wide dress code. Suppose a current employee decides to go out and get that neck tattoo they’ve been thinking about; it can get them shit-canned on the spot unless they are willing and able to cover it up in a way that complies with existing company dress code.

Weirdly enough, it looks like employers might be getting more strict about tattoo bans over time than not. Though they are getting inked almost twice as much as any other age demographic, a University of Tampa study indicates millennials might be more conservative regarding visible tattoos in the workplace than Gen Xers. The study shows that 73 percent of respondents felt that employers should have the right to dictate the visibility of tattoos, and 61 percent indicated that if they were a hiring manager, they would look negatively upon visible tattoos in an interview setting.

Millennials also tend to be more savvy than Gen Xers when it comes to the placement of their ink. Over 90 percent responded that potential employment plays a role in choosing which part of the body to tattoo. While a Pew Research study found that almost 30 percent of people with tattoos have them in “visible” areas, 95.2 percent of millennial respondents to the University of Tampa study indicated that their tattoos would not be visible wearing standing business attire.

For all you tattoo aficionados, here’s the bad news: As far as the law is concerned, there is no such thing as tattoo discrimination. Legally speaking, tattoos are protected free speech under the Constitution; you can have as many tattoos as your heart desires without getting arrested. However, unless your tattoo is directly related to religious expression, there is no law prohibiting a non-hire or a termination based on visible tattoos or piercings.

It sucks, but it’s best to be mindful of where that next tattoo is going for the sake of your current or future employment.