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."

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