Breaking Taboo: Tattoos in the workplace

Monique Aganovic talks tattoos at work.

Now, let me preface this article with this disclaimer: I have heard every single warning about tattoos that there is. When I got my first tattoo at 16 I heard them all. “What will you tell your grandkids? They don’t age well, you know! Don’t get them anywhere someone can see them…” Yeah, I get it, having a tattoo will eventually come back to bite me in the ass.

And here it is: I now work at a job where I have to cover my tattoos. It wasn’t too bad in winter because I got to wear a big comfy hoodie every day and I was toasty warm. But now it’s hot, and it’s hard.

This debate has been raging for years. On the one hand, there are the people who say tattoos are offensive and sure, some can be. Then, there’s the other side, those who don’t care about tattoos in the workplace.

It’s a fine line between a personal and professional debate, but technically,  your employer can ask you to cover your tattoos, according to a 2016 ruling by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The same applies to piercings or any other uniform features that the employer determines not suitable for their business.

There are exceptions to this which are incredibly important. Asking an employee to cover their tattoos becomes legal discrimination when; it is applied to only one gender, it doesn’t relate to the workplace, doesn’t allow for religious or cultural beliefs, or isn’t fair to those with a disability.

I don’t resent my workplace by any means, I actually really enjoy it there. Which is why it’s so difficult to feel uncomfortable with the dress code. The taboo nature around tattoos in the workplace can often create a fairly awkward work environment. Whilst workers may not face discrimination from their place of employment, discrimination can come from other workers or customers/clients. Regardless of whether you agree with a person’s tattoos, or any other aspect of their body for that matter, it’s never appropriate to comment on their appearance in a mean or spiteful way.

In this age of millennials, where 1 in 5 Australians has at least one tattoo, tattooing is quickly becoming a cultural norm.

So why are we still having this discussion? Whilst I am sympathetic to the idea that tattoos can at times be inappropriate, it is important to remember that the people within society who face discrimination for their body art are in fact humans. Your waiter, barista, bank teller, mailman, trainer, teacher, and countless others, are members of the workforce and are active contributors to society. The fact that they may have a butterfly on their wrist shouldn’t diminish their achievements or worth.

Perhaps for tattoos in the workplace to become less of an issue, there needs to be a societal shift. Take the taboo out of tattoos and allow for a more equal, welcoming workforce that is accepting of people’s individuality and strengths, rather than one that works to stifle them.

 Feature Image: Estelle Wright, courtesy of Monique Aganovic