The taboo of tattoos: these days, are tattoos workplace appropriate or not?


It’s rare for people to come across those who hate, or at the very least, don’t appreciate art. Art is beautiful, emotional and creative. The same can be said about tattoos. However, they, and other forms of body modifications, are easily characterized as trashy, distasteful and unprofessional by many.

Visible tattoos in the workplace have been a taboo subject for years, and although people are starting to become more lenient when it comes to ink, it’s still deemed a touchy subject and can cause many problems in regards to future job prospects.

In the past year, an infographic based on different tattoo statistics for North America was created by Skinfo, a specialty skin boutique run by a highly reputable dermatologist, Dr. Amy Forman Taub. Dr. Taub is a member of the Advisory Council for the Skin Cancer Foundation and on the Research Committee for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, and the graphic created on for her site has been cited by many different outlets including Business Insider, Forbes and CBS News for referencing tattoos in the workplace and care of the body. .

The graphic, conveniently titled Tattoos in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, explores the good and bad facts associated with tattoos, as well as where they can get into an “ugly” area — specifically talking about taking care of your skin and how neglected skin can make tattoos look “even worse”.

According to the graphic, 42 per cent of people of all ages feel that tattoos are not considered appropriate for the workplace; that’s almost half the population. Taking this into consideration, it still rings true that older generations continue to stick to their guns and believe that tattoos aren’t a good idea to show off at work, with 66 per cent of those 60 years of age and older deeming them inappropriate. As much as people wish to believe that tattoos aren’t that big of a deal as they used to be, the facts, sadly, aren’t there to back it up.

There still remains a huge stigma attached to tattoos and other body modifications (mods). While some people will accept a tattoo, little things like an unusual face piercing or unnaturally coloured hair can be a one-way ticket to getting your resume chucked into the trash when the interview process is over. It is completely at the discretion of store management, if there is an “image” they wish to protect when it comes to who they hire, in most cases it wouldn’t include ink or piercings.

Many companies have been known to have rules against visible tattoos and other mods that they work, or had recently enforced, into their employee policies, including Tim Hortons, McDonalds and Fortinos Supermarket. However, it can be easy to work around these restrictions, as many employers are gradually becoming more lenient.

In terms of companies that are pro-tattoo, the list is actually quite diverse; Whole Foods, Target, Forever 21, Barnes and Nobles, LUSH and MAC Cosmetics are amongst those included. Even large-scale corporations such as Google, Amazon, Fedex and UPS have open and inclusive policies when it comes to tattoos and other forms of expression.

In most cases, the most important rule is that the tattoos, if visible, cannot be ‘inappropriate’ in any way. Anything that could be considered racist, sexist, homophobic or contain other kinds of offensive material is not the best thing to have on display. It’s important to think about placement when you pursue potentially risque art. While tattoos that include “mature” content, such as nudity, can be quite beautifully drawn and well executed to remain classy, applying for a job at, say, Toy’s ‘R’ Us probably isn’t the best idea, given the kind of clientele.

When it comes to getting a tattoo, the biggest worry for most people — especially if they are young and have yet to establish themselves in a career or really start their professional life — is that it might come to affect their ability to get a job when they’re older. At that point, you have to make a choice. Do you want the tattoo or the job? It’s an unfair request to make, but it’s unfortunately true if you wish to work in certain kinds of environments.

Different career paths will allow different things. According to the Skinfo’s graphic, the field with the highest number of tattooed staff is the millitary, with 36 per cent of people having a tattoo, followed by agricultural work at 22 per cent and hospitality and tourism at 20 per cent. The industry with the lowest representation, despite having the surprisingly open and freeing rules on the subject, is the Government, which is represented by eight percent. Shockingly enough, finance and banking, healthcare and other “professional services” are only one percent lower when it comes to representation than retail (14 per cent).

Although having tattoo’s in the business world can be frowned upon, it doesn’t stop people from getting them. This can be especially true once they reach high levels of involvement in companies or are able to conceal them beneath a blazer, tights, long sleeved, collared shirts and slacks — most of which would probably be required attire for a typical office job. However, there is still a fear that circulates tattoo culture, as there are no concrete laws that protect an employee from being discriminated against because of tattoos or piercings.

Thirty-eight per cent of adults in Canada have at least one tattoo. That’s 95,490,468 people who could potentially be denied a job because they chose to get some ink. By having some flowers printed on my arm, am I going to have a difficult time finding a job? All because I wanted to tell a story and have something to represent a little part of me on me?

As I progress through university, I am getting closer to a time when I will need to decide on what my permanent career will be. At this point, I know I can cut out fields like banking and insurance and other jobs that would require me to work in a fancy office building under strict guidelines. Not just because of what kind of career I’m seeking, but because of the kind of lifestyle I’m interested in and the fact that I have visible tattoos. Come time for my graduation, I will be part of the 14 per cent of the population who have a tattoo and have completed school.

I have hope that one day there will come a time when people will stop caring about these seemingly irrelevant issues and let people work in whichever kind of position they wish to work in, regardless of visible differences or not.

While they are still somewhat frowned upon, tattoos are becoming more and more popular. Especially amongst today’s generation. More kids are growing up with tattooed parents than ever before and are being exposed exposed to tattoos in an open environment. The stigma is slowly being erased and rewritten by the fact that tattoos still have the ability to be professional and classy, opposed to the old-school associations that connoted trash.

I can’t foresee the tattoo industry going anywhere but up at this point. Seeing as there are close to 20 shops in the Niagara/St.Catharines area, hundreds of shops within the GTA, and thousands upon thousands of artists across the country, let alone the world, the business is one that is continually expanding.

Tattoos and other body modifications continue to be explored and expressed in a positive light thanks to popular culture. Miami Ink originally aired 2005 through 2008 on TLC, followed now world-famous tattoo artists Ami James and Kat Von D and the rest of the 305 Ink staff. The show spawned multiple spin offs, including Kat Von D’s own show as the owner of High Voltage Tattoos in LA Ink, and Ami James’ shop The Woo$ter Street Social Club in NY Ink. Other shows Needles and Pins, now airing on Viceland, with episodes exploring topics from “Las Vegas’ tattoo economy” to “erotic and illegal tattoos in Japan.”

With the delicate line work, intricate designs, and out-right masterpieces that I have seen produced by some artists, I fail to see why tattoos still have negative associations in the workplace. After all, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts,” right? The kind of person you choose to be, the kind of work ethic you possess, and you intellectual abilities are not expressed through marks you carry on your skin.

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