Tattoos in workplace still a touchy topic

Workers have more body art than ever, but generational and cultural divides keep most of the ink covered up.

By Jason Notte Apr 19, 2013 9:03AM
Businessman with tattooed arms (© RyanJLane/E+/Getty Images)The number of tattooed Americans in the workforce has hit nearly mainstream levels in recent years. The number of stodgy MBAs making corporate hiring decisions, however, hasn't budged in the least.

The New York Times took a look at the plight of corporate America's inked employees and found that, with few exceptions, the rule of thumb is still to cover it up. An annual survey from the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania found that 61% of human-resources managers said a tattoo would hurt a job applicant’s chances. That's up from 57% in 2011 despite an increasingly tattooed labor pool.

And 23% of Americans have a tattoo, according to a Pew Research poll from 2010. That number goes up among Generations X and Y, as 32% of people ages 30 to 45 have at least one tattoo. Among millennials, the tattoo rate is roughly 40%, with 18% of those sporting ink having six tattoos or more. Going back as far as 2007, Inc. estimated the more than 15,000 tattoo parlors in the U.S. brought in $2.3 billion annually.

Unfortunately for the painted proletariat, only about 15% of the suited, humorless 46-to-64-year-olds doing the hiring have tattoos as well. And only about 20% of the tattooed masses told the American Academy of Dermatology in 2004 -- before most millennials had their first encounter with the needle -- that they considered getting their tats removed. So how do you break the divide?

The most popular fix is to just hide the body art. About 70% of inked millennials told Pew their tattoos are hidden beneath clothing. The Times piled on personal accounts of employees having to load up on long-sleeve shirts, cardigans and other cover-ups just to get through job interviews.

While attorneys note that no laws prohibit employers from discriminating against applicants with tattoos, the game changes a bit once those tattoos and the talent wearing them are on the payroll.

"When people ask, I say there’s a mix of legal and business considerations," Marc J. Scheiner, a senior associate specializing in employment law at the Duane Morris law firm in Philadelphia, told The Times. "Sure, companies can have a dress-code policy of no tattoos. But I tell them to consider recruitment and retention issues."

In fact, tattoos have become marks of distinction for employers looking to cultivate a certain aesthetic. Clothing retailer H&M, for example, saw tattoos as a plus when it hired human resources staff assigned to fill retail positions with stylish employees who fit the company's image.

Elana Goldberg, a 22-year-old HR manager for e-commerce firm Quantum Networks, says her employers are also big on workers with ink. "My boss is very interested in a hipster environment," she says. "He would never turn someone away because of that physical mark. If anything, it would make him even more attracted to the person."

More on moneyNOW

Apr 19, 2013 1:40PM
Worse than tattoos,..... piercings.   It's difficult to look at some of these people with creepy piercings, eyebrows, lips, cheek, not to mention those Buffalo Nickels in earlobes,   etc...     I creep out when i see these, but hey, that's me.
Apr 19, 2013 2:22PM
I am an Accountant  with several, very well placed tattoos. I'm proud of each one of them, and LOVE to hear people in the break room or office Christmas party talking about how they would never befriend or hire someone with the low morals to have not one but several tattoos! :) I am a bit offended with this article's 'proletariat' comment, as I worked very hard for my position in the business world. I am proud to say that even someone with tattoos knows a couple of "big words", and knows when to be offended as well.  My body is art is just that-MY body ART. I am not infringing on your right to have bad breath, wear ridiculous high heels, or text your girlfriend ALL DAY.  In a world of such chaos, is my 'very well placed' tattoo really that big of a deal anyway?
Apr 19, 2013 2:04PM
I personally don't give a crap what a person looks like. Do they have an attitude that indicates they will be a good person to work with and do they have the skills to do the job? End of story.
Apr 19, 2013 1:55PM

I never really understood the tattoo craze.


If you want to have brightly colored lines running all up and down your arms and legs just wait till you get older...

Apr 19, 2013 1:50PM

I got mine at age 17 in the service (forearms early 70's) and regretted it throughout my business career, after college I was lucky through hard work to advance to the executive level of a large firm and my burden for over 35 years was keeping them private by wearing long sleeve shirts, which was for the most part business dress attire to casual. Attitudes were different in those years and my working peers and counterparts on the other side of the table were brutal.


Times change for those of you tatting up 20 years from now the attitude may be harsh again, beware.

Apr 19, 2013 2:05PM
On the other hand - - my aging father received incredible consideration from people when they saw his 1940's vintage Marine Corps tattoo.  "No Marine waits to be seated in my restaurant" was just one kindness shown to the old guy.  My parents arrived at a national historic site too late for the last tour - an employee mentioned the tattoo, the Marine Corps, and took my parents on an after-hours personal tour.  Dad was often assited by other (younger) Marines, part of a true brotherhood, Semper Fi and all that.  None of that would have happened without that tattoo (even though my Dad always said getting it was one of the stupidest things he ever did!) 
Apr 19, 2013 2:06PM

If I knew that tattoos would become a trend where everybody and their grand mother would get them at the same time, I would be ink free today.

Apr 19, 2013 1:44PM
Tattoos MUST be covered when working with Clients, if you can't cover it up than look for another field of work. I am involved in enforcement and treatment activities involving Violent Adolescent and Young Adult Violent Offenders.  There is ALWAYS and issue with Gang Related Tattoos and I don't like "mixed messages" going to those Offenders I encounter. I don't like the possibility a a Group believing I treat them differently because of Tattoos or I identify with a specific group .
Apr 19, 2013 1:47PM
These excessively tatooed people are kind of "snaky" looking.  Creepy to me.
Apr 19, 2013 1:47PM

Hard to believe the predjudice in these columns.  I have tats and I am a bussiness man with a degree.  No reason to judge people for anything but who and what they are.

I choose to cover up when meeting clients as I do not want the distraction while doing business.

The people responding are wound way too tight. Hopefully their daughter wont get three earrings instead of the traditional teo or a nose piercing and wear it to an interview she is ultimately qualified for.  Or where Bangs.... Yes bangs  all people who wear bangs to theri eye obviously dont care about theri hygiene!!!!  Where does it stop?  Get a grip  The freedom to decide is your freedom, and you have the right to your opinion. Make it what you want. Its a free country- brought to you by the military men and women who keep it that way.  Of which many have tattoes and whom I am proudly one

Apr 19, 2013 2:13PM
I am an accountant in my late 20's with a masters degree, I work in a management position. I also have a lip ring which I do not wear to work...that is my position at work I look and act professionally. On the weekend all bets are off.
Apr 19, 2013 1:53PM
Getting a tattoo is a decision one makes. Others have, and should have, the right to "judge" others on the decisions they make.
Apr 19, 2013 1:46PM

Elana Goldberg, a 22-year-old HR manager for e-commerce firm Quantum Networks, says her employers are also big on workers with ink. "My boss is very interested in a hipster environment


this is why someone who can fix a typewriter and work a smart phone gets over looked for a position posted..not a hipster. Hey Elana Some people can do lots of things who have no "ink" on them and can be prettty fun and "hip".

Apr 19, 2013 2:13PM

I'm a GEN X'er with over 130 hour’s worth of ink...More of my body is tattooed than not. I can, however, cover them all with slacks and a polo type shirt, if needed... I also have an MBA and have worked for the Largest Defense contractor in the world for over 11 years. Several of our Engineers have visible tattoos and with the exception of a few older managers/directors, they're acceptable within the workplace. Most people that meet me have no clue; I am a single father of two boys and a business professional with very successful career. MORE AND MORE of us exist and are actually doing the hiring now! So, no fear fellow tattooed lovers... ;) 

Apr 19, 2013 2:57PM
My son and daughter-in-law both have lots of tattoos.  I adore them and love them unconditionally, but everytime I'm around them, it's hard to carry on a conversation without being distracted by the skulls, Tinkerbells and very large names printed on their bodies.  I don't think less of them for it, but many people do, and I wish they would realize that it holds them back, in many areas of life. 
Apr 19, 2013 1:08PM

I am on the fence of this article as I am a 28 year old in the business world with 2 master's degrees (MA and MBA) and have multiple tattoos. While I am the traditionalist that believes tattoos should be professional (neck, elbows, knees), I would certainly not make a hiring decision based on their means of expression. This culture will change in the next 5-10 years as more of the conservative crowd retires and the millennial's move into positions of "power", if you will.

Apr 19, 2013 1:52PM

What is it they  used to say? You can't judge a book by it's cover. Enough said.

Apr 19, 2013 1:44PM
Tattoos don't bother me at all unless they refer to women in derogatory terms. Nor do I make assumptions based on whether or not someone has a tattoo.  Someday, I may even get one myself...
Apr 19, 2013 2:03PM
I have 9 tattoos and hold a business degree.One of my tattoos can not be covered because it is on my hand, but I do cover the others. In my opinion tattoos have nothing to do with my work ethic and the way I perform my job. We are in 2013, people not all but some need to realize that.
Apr 19, 2013 2:24PM

I have tattoos. When I was a Marine the general rule was you can have them but not visible when in short sleeve uniform shirt.  Biceps, chest, back etc.....


Now as a business owner I have this same policy.  I dont mind them, I just dont want to see them and neither do customers and associates.  During work keep them covered.  You only get one chance at a first impression so unless your a sailor or a biker.....think before you ink....whats cool today may haunt you forever,

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] The major averages ended the midweek session with slim gains after showing some intraday volatility in reaction to the release of the latest policy directive from the Federal Open Market Committee. The S&P 500 added 0.1%, while the relative strength among small caps sent the Russell 2000 higher by 0.3%.

Equities spent the first half of the session near their flat lines as participants stuck to the sidelines ahead of the FOMC statement, which conveyed no changes to the ... More