Why do jobs not allow tattoos?

Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years, with estimates that 30% of people aged 18-35 in the United States have at least one tattoo. However, many employers still impose dress code restrictions that prohibit visible tattoos or limit tattoos to only certain locations on the body. This can make finding a job difficult for heavily tattooed individuals. So why do some jobs continue to ban tattoos in the workplace?

Key Reasons Employers Cite for Tattoo Restrictions

There are several common explanations employers give for restricting tattoos in the workplace:

  • Maintaining a professional image. Many employers want their staff to project an image that appeals to customers or clients. Visible tattoos can potentially detract from that image.
  • Avoiding offending customers. Tattoos with profane, discriminatory or controversial content could upset customers or clients.
  • Safety concerns. Tattoos and piercings can pose safety risks for employees operating heavy machinery or in factories.
  • Hygiene for food service workers. Tattoos can harbor bacteria and food service workers are required to keep their skin clean.
  • Compliance with uniform policies. Law enforcement, military, airlines, and other fields require specific uniform standards.

Employers want to maintain control over the image, brand, and culture in their workplace. Strict rules about appearance, including tattoos, are one way they try to achieve that.

Legal Considerations for Employers

In most cases, U.S. employers have the legal right to require dress codes and prohibit visible tattoos. Specifically:

  • At-will employment allows employers to set policies like dress codes and dismiss workers who don’t comply, with a few exceptions.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to accommodate religious beliefs, which may include religious tattoos.

However, employers risk discrimination lawsuits if their policies single out specific groups, such as:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin

For example, a policy prohibiting tattoos associated with a particular religion or culture could be unlawful. Employers should seek legal counsel when developing tattoo policies.

Industry Variations in Tattoo Acceptance

Acceptance of visible tattoos differs across industries. Some fields are beginning to relax restrictions, while others maintain formal policies against them.

More Accepting Industries

Studies show the following sectors are most accepting of employees with visible tattoos:

  • Technology
  • Media and entertainment
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Art and design
  • Academia

Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple employ many millennial and Gen Z workers who view tattoos as personal self-expression. Relaxed environments encourage creative freedom.

More Restrictive Sectors

On the other hand, fields like these still largely forbid visible tattoos:

  • Law enforcement and military
  • Healthcare
  • Banking and finance
  • Hospitality
  • Food service

Employees interact closely with the public in these roles. Strict dress codes aim to project professionalism and avoid offending conservative customers.

What the Research Says on Customer Perceptions

There are mixed research findings on how customers perceive employees with visible tattoos:

  • A 2016 study found negative biases, but only for front-line sales personnel.
  • A 2020 study in the International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management found no significant impact of employee tattoos on customer purchasing intentions.
  • Research in the restaurant industry found customer perceptions of service quality were unaffected by server tattoos.

Negative perceptions may depend on the type of tattoo. Offensive tattoos evoke stronger negative reactions from customers compared to neutral designs.

Overall, customer tolerance seems to be improving as tattoos become mainstream. But more conservative customer bases may still disapprove.

Best Practices for Inclusive Dress Code Policies

Instead of outright tattoo bans, today’s employers can consider these best practices for inclusive policies:

  • Allow discreet tattoos on ankles, upper arms, etc. that can be covered as needed.
  • Restrict offensive or explicit content but allow neutral tattoo designs.
  • Train managers against discrimination and consistent enforcement of policies.
  • Focus on inclusivity, not appearance standards.
  • Provide company-branded coverings or make-up if needed to conceal tattoos.
  • Consult with legal counsel and employee groups.

With some flexibility and training, employers can maintain professional standards while removing outright stigma against tattooed applicants and employees.

Advice for Job Seekers With Tattoos

For job applicants with visible tattoos, experts recommend:

  • Research company culture and policies before applying.
  • Highlight skills and qualifications first, before appearance.
  • Decline to disclose tattoo details unless directly relevant.
  • Use coverings for interviews if required by dress codes.
  • Discuss accommodations with hiring managers if needed.
  • Consider laser removal for offensive or notorious tattoos if possible.

With preparation, a professional attitude, and qualifications that outweigh appearance factors, tattooed applicants can still succeed in the job search process.

The Future of Tattoo Acceptance at Work

As younger tattooed generations enter the workforce, employers may relax policies over time. But many still value standards of professional presentation.

Rather than bans, thoughtful accommodations can foster inclusion while allowing business needs. Clear policies based on content and visibility, not personal expression, can aim to ensure fairness.

With some flexibility on both sides, jobs and tattoos are no longer mutually exclusive. Policies that respect personal freedom while addressing business needs can lead the way forward.


Employer tattoo restrictions aim to maintain professionalism, safety, and customer service. Legal protections allow policies prohibiting visible tattoos in most cases. Acceptance varies by industry, with more negative perceptions among conservative customer bases. Research shows neutral reactions in some service roles. Best practices focus on content, visibility, and inclusion over outright bans. With preparation and accommodations, tattooed applicants can still succeed in the job search process. Thoughtful policies that respect personal expression while allowing business needs can lead to greater inclusion in the future.

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