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News added on 16.09.2019

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Dress and appearance

Should you reverse a ban on visible tattoos?

Following an 18-month pressure campaign by the West Yorkshire Police Federation, West Yorkshire Police has reversed its policy that prevented police officers from displaying their arm tattoos when on duty. If your dress policy bans visible tattoos, should you think about amending it?

West Yorkshire Police’s policy required that its officers had to cover any tattooed arms. The policy was that only “small, inoffensive and non-prominent” inking on necks and hands could be shown. This policy has now been relaxed so that arm tattoos can be openly visible, provided they’re not offensive. West Yorkshire Police Federation had conducted a survey of over 1,100 police officers and this revealed that 55% had a tattoo of some sort, with more than 80% saying they felt colleagues should be allowed to show inoffensive arm tattoos while working.

Almost one in three young people aged 16-44 years have tattoos. If your dress policy bans visible tattoos (by providing that they should be kept covered when staff are at work), this is generally a legitimate rule, but it could mean that you’re missing out on recruiting talented workers, particularly in relation to tattoos that are harder to conceal, such as those on the hands, face or neck. Therefore, if you do wish to review the provisions in your dress policy on tattoos, first objectively consider the needs of your business and the reasoning behind your current approach. Does your rule exist to portray a professional business image to clients or customers? Do your employees’ roles actually bring them into contact with clients or customers? Who are your clients or customers and what are their expectations, i.e. are they likely to have a negative perception of tattoos? What would be acceptable levels of body art in your industry? Would a suitable compromise be to have a different rule on visible tattoos for professional, client-facing roles to that for back room or manual jobs?

Do consider revising your policy on visible tattoos, both to bring your business in line with what is now widely accepted within modern society and to ensure you don’t lose out on recruiting talented workers. However, if having an “open” tattoos policy is a step too far for your business, one option would be to have a more relaxed rule for those employees whose job duties do not generally bring them into contact with clients or customers or who are in manual roles but to keep stricter restrictions in place for professional, client-facing roles.

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