Body Art Discrimination In The Workplace

Posted by Fiona Horton on Jan 31, 2019 4:59:44 PM
Fiona Horton
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Tattoos are everywhere. What were once the markings of sailors, soldiers, prisoners and punks are now everyday fashion accessories and the more elaborate the better. There are multiple mainstream TV shows about them (Ink Master, Tattoo Fixers, Black Ink Crew, et al) and a whopping 30% of 25-to-39 year-olds in the UK say they have them (47% of millenials). Yet, under current UK law, body art is not considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (unless it’s a religious marking) and so it’s at the employer’s discretion whether or not they decide to employ someone with visible body art.


As you’ll already know if you regularly read my blog, I’m on the Board of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, so it’s probably fairly obvious what my own stance as an employer is on tattoos – I do not discriminate based on them. And yes in fact I have two myself (more about that in another blog).


However, I have to say that I suspect a lot of existing and potential clients might object to them if they were too extreme, which puts me in a precarious position. What happens if one of my team is suddenly adorned in body art and a client decides they don’t want to work with that person anymore, as a result?


When we developed wagamama’s Employer Brand – the entire brand was based around an individual’s visible difference. (It happened to win a RAD Award for Best Employer Brand too but I don’t want to brag too much about that!.) wagamama was and still is very very overtly wanting to attract people who are different -all welcome. Visible tattoos? Join us. Pink Mohican? Join us. Visible piercings? Not a problem – join us. The employer strapline is ‘be you. be wagamama’

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Yet that is the only brand I’ve ever seen that is so openly, tolerant and accepting of difference. You’d really hope that in 2018 we’re a much more tolerant and liberal society and that includes the workplace. But I’m also almost certain that strong prejudice still happens in the workplace – even at a subconscious level. And prejudice doesn’t just begin and end with body art. It probably spans all protected characteristics.


I know that some of my recruiter friends are specifically told by their clients “I don’t want a woman/man/person under or over this age/person with this nationality” etc. How can this be OK in 2018? Yet the brief is stuck to and the prejudice is tolerated behind closed doors.


So whilst we’ve made huge strides in protected characteristics legislation, I wonder when true prejudice will be a thing of the past. Or is this wishful thinking? Will it never really go away because we all have subconscious prejudice and bias?


But I’m forever an optimist. And the day that no one bats an eyelid at any protected characteristic and the best person for the job gets it, the sooner employers (and myself) will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Right now, whether we talk about this openly or not, it’s just not the case.


Topics: Fiona's Musings