Are you missing out on talented staff?

Posted by Debra Gers on
Employee with tattoos
What do Samantha Cameron, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie and David Dimbleby have in common? They are just a few high-profile individuals who have a tattoo or, in David Beckham's case, lots of them.

Love them or loathe them, tattoos are in the news. According to research on Dress Codes, published today by Acas, almost one in three young people have a tattoo. Acas is concerned that employers may be missing out on employing talented young staff because of their reluctance to recruit people with visible tattoos. But it's not just young people. According to a Yougov poll in 2015, almost a fifth of UK adults have a tattoo and David Dimbleby was 75 when he had his tattoo done.

Staff are an important and expensive asset. The aim of successful recruitment is to find the best person for the role in question taking into account skills, experience, qualities and potential. It is essential to ensure that the recruitment process is carried out free from discrimination and conscious or unconscious bias. This ensures that the successful candidate is chosen on merit.

However, conscious or unconscious bias often influences the decision making process.

Research has shown that nearly half of employers are biased against obese people. This is worrying, not only because many obese people do not have any health issues but because in Karsten Kaltoft v Billund Kommune the European Court of Justice held that, in certain circumstances obesity can constitute a disability. Unconscious bias can also arise with regional accents and the perception that people with certain accents are more intelligent or friendlier than others.

Regarding today's research, Acas found that negative attitudes towards tattoos and piercings from managers and employees influenced the recruitment process in some workplaces. Employers' concerns about visible tattoos often related to how potential clients or customers would view the individual and their perceived "professionalism".

Whether or not tattoos will be a barrier to recruitment will of course depend on the role and profession involved. Whilst visible tattoos may not go down very well at an accountancy or law firm for example, or in the financial services sector, there may not be any concerns in other sectors such as hospitality, where people are working in bars and nightclubs frequented by younger people.

Finally, don't forget that although employers can put in place dress codes (and uniform policies) because they require a high standard of personal appearance, such as in the retail sector or for health and safety reasons in hospitals, dress codes need to be drafted with care to avoid unlawful discrimination occurring. Restrictions on jewellery, for example, may impact on an individual’s right to manifest their religion or belief and justification of the dress code will be crucial. Consequently, it is important to consider whether there is a real business need or health and safety reason for the requirements in relation to the specific job in question. There was huge media interest recently in the case of the receptionist who was sent home from her first day at work for wearing flat shoes and told that she had to wear shoes with a two to four inch heel. In the light of that case, Acas has now updated its Dress Code guidance to make it clear that any dress code should not be stricter, or lead to a detriment, for one gender over another.

About the Author

Photograph of Debra Gers

Debra is responsible for the firm’s public employment training programme.

Debra Gers
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