Could a tattoo or piercing cost you your job?


Before the 19th century, the only people in Western society who had tattoos were prostitutes and criminals. However, as time went on and the colonial powers spread to other nations, tattoos became slightly more acceptable in popular culture after becoming a part of military culture.

My grandfather got two tattoos in Panama in 1947 while he was enlisted in the Navy. I always thought his were really cool, and at 10 years old I decided I wanted to get a tattoo when I got older. This decision may have been pre-empted in part because an older cousin got her tattoo that year as well. At 19, I got my first tattoo and I want to get more in the future.

Gen Y has grown up with various idols that have tattoos and piercings including musicians, actors, writers and artists. In recent years there has also been an influx of television programs that focus on the lives of tattoo artists and their shops including Inked, Miami Ink, LA Ink and Tattoo Highway.

I have also come to recognize that I am not an anomaly among my friends. I know many Gen Yers that have tattoos; some have only small images while others have large pieces that cover a lot of their body. Regardless of the size of the image, most of these tattoos can be hidden by clothing.

But this got me thinking: if I was to get a much larger tattoo or one in a more visible place, could that possibly cost me a job?

Even though many of the negative stereotypes toward tattoos have become less prevalent, they may still remain depending on your company’s culture. Unless you want to be a rock star, artist or tattooist, you’re probably not able to have tattoos that cover most of your body because you will not be seen as professional. Having large tattoos or having them in visible areas could cost you a job.

Although this can be seen as discriminatory, technically it is not.

Most workplaces have a dress code, which is a standard for what employees should wear to represents the employer’s brand. Some places of work have a ban on visible tattoos, and depending on the industry this can be appropriate.

For example, you wouldn’t want a kindergarten teacher with two nautical-themed sleeves featuring 1940’s pinup girls and skeletons on his forearms. At the same time, there would be less of a concern if the same teacher had a single tattoo of a scorpion on the bicep because it would remain mostly covered.

Body and facial piercings carry the same workplace issues as tattoos. Once again, depending on their placement on the body and the corporate culture of the workplace a piercing may or may not be considered acceptable.

If you are planning to get a new tattoo or piercing and you are already employed, talk to your current employer to find out what the rules are about piercings and tattoos. If you are looking for work, be wary of the fact that if your new tattoo or piercing is clearly visible it could prevent you from being hired by certain employers.

About the author

Danielle Lorenz is a long-time contributor to the Career Incubator. Danielle is a PhD student in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta. When procrastinating from schoolwork, you will find Danielle lurking on several social media platforms and trying to befriend the snowshoe hares on the U of A campus.