Although there are currently no laws in place in any country that I can think of regarding the legalities surrounding tattoo discrimination, it’s good to see the issue getting some press. This piece recently appeared on the BBC News website and discusses in depth the kind of situation that many employees and employers are facing regarding tattoo. In England, it is not currently illegal to fire someone or refuse them work for having visible tattoos. However, given a little more time and perseverance from the likes of people like Matthew Whelan (or if you prefer to address him by his legal name: King of Ink Land King Body Art the Extreme Ink-Ite), that could all change in the near future.
Whelan has headed up a campaign to protect the employment status of people with tattoos, piercings and other body art modifications. His line of reasoning for doing this is incredibly simple:
‘”If someone can do a job, they should be equal with the next person who has the same CV,” he says.
Tattoos are more than simply a lifestyle choice, he argues – they are an expression of someone’s identity just as much as their religion or other beliefs.
“I was nine when I knew I wanted them,” he says. “People who are modified have an identity because of their image and who they are.”‘
I completely agree with Whelan because what he is saying makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is preventing a fully qualified person from doing a job simply because they happen to have tattoos. Yes, it is well within the rights of an employer to make the final decision as to who will or won’t be working for them. Many employers do not see being tattooed as an appropriate look for places of business. To read this or to hear someone say this might even make a bit of sense. After all, maybe someone with neck tattoos would seem out of place in a law office or an accounting firm. But scratch at the surface of this so-called truth and there’s numerous questions. For example, why does someone being out of place mean that they can’t do their job just as well as anyone else? Physical appearance makes absolutely no difference as to the degree in which someone can perform their job. If the greatest doctor in the world were to one day go out and get completely covered in tattoos, would that make his ability as a doctor any less credible? No, it wouldn’t. The only thing that would change would be people’s perceptions of the doctor and those perceptions would not be based in fact, they would simply be based in prejudice.
Some would argue that having a tattooed employee doesn’t reflect well on the business that said employee works for. Okay, I can see that as a complaint. I don’t however, think that it is a valid complaint. Tattoos are not dirty, nor do they make a person slovenly or unkempt. Those are merely associations that people have placed on the idea of a tattoo, which is not a reality. A tattoo is ink on flesh so it obviously cannot be moved or smudged or made to look any different than it was when it was first inked into the flesh. A person’s hair or complexion or clothing can be dirty, slovenly or unkempt – not the permanent ink on their flesh. The idea of tattoo not being appropriate within the confines of “serious” public avenues of commerce is no more than an idea – a concept that Western society has allowed itself to be told again and again until it became a truth. That does not mean that it is a truth, however. We have simply trained ourselves to believe in something. Just as we have trained ourselves to believe it, we can untrain ourselves out of believing it. Instead, we can and should focus on training ourselves to believe that a person’s tattoos do not lessen the calibre or moral fibre of that person.
‘Employers – especially those seeking specialist skills – may find they can’t afford to exclude talent. In an effort to tackle a recruitment shortfall, the British Army is reported to be considering relaxing its rules to allow tattoos on the face, neck and hands.’
And that’s the way the future is headed, so let’s all just deal with it. Tattoo isn’t going away, nor are the people who are tattooed. Getting past the insignificant fact that some prospective employees will have tattoos and some won’t is only going to make our societies better places. I for one think it’s high time that we stopped caring so much about what people look like and focus instead on what kind of a person they prove themselves to be. So like I said, it’s great to see this issue getting some media attention and I am confident that it will only be a matter of time – perhaps longer than many of us would like – before discriminating against someone for their tattoos in a place of business is a thing of the past.