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Is it time to relax office appearance standards when it comes to tattoos?

The strict standards that some have in place are not in line with how the general public feels

Times are changing when it comes to people’s attitudes about visible tattoos, with new research suggesting that employers might need to rethink their policies on appearance standards.

Recent research conducted by Acas and King’s College examined the issue of visible tattoos, body piercings and overall office dress codes and found that the attitudes of employers and the strict standards that some have in place are not in line with how the general public feels.

The research, which included a wide-ranging review of available literature and current case law alongside interviews with both employees and employers, highlighted a number of issues when it came to acceptable appearance standards.

Some areas of the service industry are against visible body piercings and tattoos largely because of concerns about how these would impact on clients and customers; however, employees can resent this judgement over their ability to carry out a role purely based on how they look. This can cause them to cover up their appearance or to find an employer that is more accepting of how they dress.

What should be seen as acceptable?

This research raises the issue of what should be deemed acceptable in the modern workplace, especially as more and more young people are choosing to have tattoos or piercings. Employers are within their rights to hire a particular candidate; however, if they are overlooking potential employees simply because of their appearance, they could be missing out on a highly-talented individual and find they are prejudiced against certain people.

Are employers adapting their policies?

There is still a large amount of prejudice against those with a number of tattoos and piercings, but research shows that some companies are adapting their policies and looking at what they find acceptable in the workplace. The XpertHR Survey from 2015 found that over 40% of businesses allow piercings and tattoos.

Many front-line businesses require a uniform as a way of reinforcing the brand image and team building; however, there are those that also see diversity as important and try to combine the two. As an example, Starbucks has realised that if its staff reflect the appearance of its customers, this can be a way of increasing visits and engaging with the public.

The problem of strict policies

The Equality Act 2010 does not cover piercings, tattoos and body modifications, but employers need to be careful when making a decision on hiring an employee; for example, they could be challenged under human rights laws or find workers are not as productive, as they do not feel part of the team. It is therefore important to have clear policies from the start about what is deemed acceptable and to consult with employees on any changes.

Communication is a vital part of any organisation and this can be far more effective at addressing any concerns than simply sticking to strict policies and procedures. This can help to ensure that attitudes and standards are in line with company policies without alienating employees.

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