From eyebrow rings to tongue rings…from a small heart on your wrist to a chest tattoo saying “NO RAGRETS”, people choose to express themselves through different types of body art. So much so that 10% of Americans have tattoos and 14% of Americans have piercings in places other than the earlobe (one-third of those age 25 to 30 have tattoos or some type of atypical piercing). Although even grandmothers are getting tattoos and piercings today, there are still jobs where having and showing them can affect your career prospects. In a survey done recently, 42% of managers stated that a potential employee having an atypical piercing or visible tattoo lowered their opinions of them. This is important to know because employers have the legal right to not hire you based on your piercings or tattoos.
So, here are a few things to mull over before getting that matching face tattoo with your best friend:
Where you Work: Generally, corporate jobs, face-to-face customer service, retail/sales, government, medicine, education, law still do not accept visible tattoos and piercings in the workplace. Some of the main reasons mentioned by employers include:
- Employee image – Those with tattoos and piercings are sometimes still linked with rebellion and aggression. An employer is less likely to hire you if you’re associated with those characteristics. That butterfly tattoo behind your ear just screams aggression!
- Company image – Many of the job fields listed above interact with customers or clients on a regular basis. Some companies don’t want their image to be represented with tattoos and piercings because it may distract or put off those that the company is serving. Some also want to maintain a “professional” environment, and tattoos/piercings are not associated with professionalism – particularly if they include naked women/men, misspelled words, or large facial piercings.
- Safety – Some jobs like construction and mechanics are more accepting body art, but their main concern is for piercings that dangle or are large enough to risk injury during work. Jobs in these fields usually warn employees to remove those specific types of piercings.
Jobs based in the arts (graphic designers, film, dance, music), construction, and athletics tend to be more accepting of tattoos and piercings. Every job is different, so still check each job’s policy on tattoos and piercings.
Rookie or Veteran: If you've been working at your job for many years, and have proven yourself to be a great employee, getting a tattoo or piercing may not hurt your career prospects compared to if you just started (and given it’s not against dress code). When interviewing for a job, cover or remove your tattoos/piercings. It might be better to cover up, get the job, then get the tattoo/piercing (if it follows the company dress code). Be aware, the top three personal reasons that make an employer less likely to promote you are piercings, bad breath, and visible tattoos.
Everyone is Different!: Even in the fields where they’re generally not accepted, certain employers can still be accepting of tattoos/piercings, and vice versa. It can also depend on the type of tattoo or piercing you have. Some jobs allow visible tattoos, as long as they are not offensive. Others allow for smaller facial piercings, like a nose stud instead of a nose ring. For example, Starbucks is seen as a very relaxed and accepting work environment, but they do not allow tattoos to be visible and atypical piercings must be removed during work hours. Walmart allows for tattoos but not facial piercings. Always check work the dress code policy when before or during an interview to find out if your job would allow tattoos and piercings.
Religious/Cultural Tattoos and Piercings: If you have a piercing or tattoo for religious/cultural reasons, a job cannot deny hiring you for those reasons (depending on US or international employee discrimination laws). Ex: If you wear a nose ring because you are Hindu, you cannot be denied a job in the U.S. based on that. In New Zealand, if you are Maori and have a cultural tattoo (called a Moko), you cannot be denied employment based on that.
Individual Discretion: Think about if your tattoos will distract you or other people while doing your work. Also think about if you will be a visible representation of your workplace. If you’re an elementary school teacher with a face or neck tattoo, this may distract students throughout the day and hinder your work. If you work in the corporate world, but do IT work, having tattoos and piercings may not be a problem. When you get your tattoo/piercing, think about what type of field you’re going into, the types of positions you want, and the people you would be serving.
Well, what can I do about it??
If you already have tattoos/piercings, you can put makeup over your visible tattoos, or remove your piercings when at work. You can also use piercing retainers (clear or flesh-colored jewelry) if you have a fresh piercing or one that closes up easily.
If you’re unwilling to cover/remove them because you feel that they are an important part of your identity, your goal should be to find a workplace that is appreciative or accepting of body art.
If you don’t have tattoos or piercings, but are thinking about getting them, ask yourself: Can this tattoo or piercing be hidden/removed? Can this tattoo or piercing be done on a part of my body that’s already generally covered? Will my future job/career be okay with my body art? Is this tattoo or piercing worth the risk of being denied employment or promotions?
There is hope though! As more people are getting tattoos and piercings, they are becoming more accepted in the mainstream, which includes the workplace! Maybe in 20 years, tattoos and piercings won’t mean a thing!
- Piercings and tattoos can be very beautiful ways to express ourselves, but they are also permanent (except for small piercings)!
- Make sure you are being safe when getting a tattoo or piercing. For more information, read our blog post about tattoo safety.
- In New York the legal age to get a piercing or tattoo is 18 years or older. If you are younger than 16 years old, you can get a piercing with a parent/guardian’s permission. For tattoos, you MUST be 18 years or older. Body Art parlors that are willing to break the law may not be the safest place to get a tattoo or piercing! Check out this link for more information on other states.