Employment
Employers share their thoughts on tattoos
by Ally Buso | February 25, 2020

We asked employers what their thoughts are on tattoos in the workplace. Here’s what they said.

Today’s youth are embracing more and more unique ways of expressing themselves through tattoos. Even though I (currently) don’t have any tattoos, I know people choose to get inked for many reasons. Maybe you are trying to commemorate the loss of a close family member, celebrating a great achievement in your life or overcoming a great personal struggle, or maybe you just like the design. Regardless of why you get tattoos, you’ve likely heard your parents warning you of the consequences that come along with getting new ink. Their favourite? “No one will hire you if you have tattoos!” 

In order to shed some light on this outdated sentiment, I reached out to potential employers and asked them, “does having tattoos really affect your chances at employment?”

Check out what they had to say:

Recruitment Specialist | Downtown Toronto Agency

Downtown Toronto skyline

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“Times have definitely changed and tattoos are becoming more commonplace across all fields. There isn’t the same misconception that we had even 10 years ago, where we were told if you had visible tattoos it would be difficult to be taken seriously in a professional environment.  I think what defines a person is not their tattoos but their skills, knowledge, and the value they can add to the organization.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“The demographic of hiring managers has also seen a shift now, where younger people are in these types of roles. Baby boomers and their more traditional views on tattoos are starting to retire, and I think being more open-minded on tattoos is definitely something that is evolving with the changing workforce.”

3. Would you say that the type of role would affect the acceptability of tattoos?

“I would say that having tattoos doesn’t affect a person’s ability to do their job. What it really comes down to is the culture of the organization and their preferences. At the end of the day, if an organization is going to discriminate on how people choose to express themselves, it’s a good idea to take a step back and ask yourself ‘is this even the type of culture I would want to work in?'”

4. Can you comment on the general acceptability of visible tattoos in the workplace in 2020? Are there noticeable trends, or industries more likely to be accepting?

“I think as time progresses, organizations are becoming more open to the idea of tattoos. Over the past few years, I have noticed a lot of start-up or tech companies really gearing their culture toward millennials, with open work environments or social hours, etc. I think having this open-mindedness when it comes to attracting candidates is great because younger people entering the workforce are more likely to have tattoos than older generations. And again, what it really comes down to are the skills and value that a candidate can bring to the organization.”

 

Dr. Elena Merenda | Assistant Program Head, University of Guelph-Humber Early Childhood Studies Program | Toronto, ON

children standing in a line holding hands

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“I don’t think tattoos should be frowned upon in the workplace. People get tattoos for many reasons. Sometimes to commemorate a loved one. To mark an important journey or event in their life. To cover scars from accidents. Whatever the reason is, tattoos are a form of self-expression and seem to be much more accepted by society than they once were.”

2. How likely would a visible tattoo affect your decision to hire a prospective employee? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“Very unlikely. It is important for anyone to enter an interview and a job being themselves. You have to dress and act like yourself. You have to be comfortable and authentic. If tattoos are a part of who they are, I don’t feel like we can discriminate against them because of the tattoo. It is part of their physical identity and we shouldn’t base our decisions on physical appearance.”

3. Are you aware of any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? Would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a child-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?

“I think it comes down to the person hiring. If he or she has a preference or an opinion about tattoos, that will affect his or her decision. I can’t say whether or not tattoos are a relevant factor in hiring as a general statement since it all depends on who the candidate is interviewing with. I do think, that, generally, tattoos are currently less frowned upon in the field than they were 10-15 years ago.”

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“When I started working in my position, I was really self-conscious about my own tattoos. I wore long sleeves on hot days just to hide the ones of my forearm and wrist. But as I got to know people around the building, I realized that there were others who have tattoos and show them off shamelessly. I decided to stop hiding my own and I realized that the fear of being judged wasn’t a reality. It was all in my head. Actually, when people ask me about my tattoos and I share the story for each of them, I think they get to know me a little better as a person.” 

 

Nick Farnell | Professor of Business and Advertising, U of GH | Toronto, ON

Advertisements in Time's Square in New York

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“Tattoos are so common that I really do not see any issues. Outside of face tattoos or offensive images/words, I cannot think of a role where it would impact someone’s ability to complete the work.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“Tattoos, in general, have no impact on a hiring decision. Some specific concerns though would be offensive images or words, or face tattoos of any kind.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? Would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a client-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?

“In my industry, (college/university) professors tend to dress conservatively, with long sleeves, long pants, etc. so tattoos are often not visible.  I have no data to support this, but I would be willing to bet that professors have just as many tattoos on average when compared with other people the same age.”

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

I”n my industry it is not that tattoos are frowned upon, it is just that people tend to wear clothes that fully cover their wrists and ankles. It is also a profession that attracts older individuals, who are less likely to be tattooed.”

 

Theresa Roberts | Director of Nursing, McCausland Hospital | Terrace Bay, ON

Stethoscope on a white blanket

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“I am okay with tattoos as long as they are tastefully done and not totally visible on the face or neck areas.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“If their tattoos are totally visible on their face or neck area, I would probably not hire the individual. I would be concerned with the effect these tattoos would have on clients. We mainly service the senior citizen population, and they are not always as receptive to tattoos as the broader population might be. My decision would be based on the number of tattoos and their visibility. I realize every individual has a right to have tattoos, but if they are distasteful, I feel as though that individual would not be the right mix for health care.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? Would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a client-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?

“Yes, I have had many staff members with tattoos that were very tastefully done and not completely visible to the clients. I found that the elderly clients did not care for them and often made comments regarding that staff member.”

Sandra Pereira | HR Manager, WeSpeakStudent | Toronto, ON

Girl holding a pile of books on her arm

 

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“In a perfect world, it would be wonderful to have employees be able to express themselves in the workplace as they choose, whether that be on a graphic t-shirt, or via a tattoo. However, that being said, each office environment and industry has different expectations. Each company may have different definitions of what professional means to them. I personally do not have any tattoos. I am not opposed to them at all. I do not feel that they are a reflection of a candidate’s resume and/or qualifications.”

 2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

Content of the tattoo:

“If it is visible, it would need to meet our respectful workplace policy and workplace professionalism policy. What that means, is that the content of any visible tattoos cannot offend anyone, cannot be perceived as discriminatory and/or harassing to any other employee, clients, etc.” 

Number of tattoos:

“The number of tattoos is not an issue, since our dress code policy really doesn’t allow for a “significant” amount of skin to be shown. If the visible tattoos are within our dress code policy for example, on the forearm, they would not be an issue. If the content of the tattoo was not offensive, the number of tattoos would be no issue at all!”

Location of tattoos:

“This would really vary by the industry, whether you interact with clients, and how visible they are. Would this tattoo distract a client or customer? How could the content be received?”

 3. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“We have many employees with tattoos in our office. I think workplaces have really evolved in terms of being much more flexible about tattoos, piercings, etc.” 

 

Pam Green | Retail General Manager | Toronto, ON

man standing holding his hand

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“I believe tattoos in the workplace are acceptable. Whether I am employing an individual, or if I am being serviced by an individual with tattoos, my opinion does not differ.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“In the past, the company I worked for viewed hiring individuals with visible tattoos as unacceptable. I had peers that could not wear short-sleeved shirts because of their tattoos, as well as any visible piercings or hair colors outside of the norm. Fast forward to today, from the rise of social media praising self-expression, the company has now changed its policy. The previous policy was driven by what they used to believe to be the “social norms”. They decided to change these policies once the voices of their demographic were heard. I lost some respect with the company when they decided to change their policy – not because of the change itself, but because I believed this should have been accepted long before.

“The only factors that would make me suggest they cover up a specific tattoo would be: if it was offensive to a certain group of people, or if it contains offensive language. Otherwise, this would not hinder my judgment of them in any way.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? Would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a client-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?

“No, there are no positions in the company that would penalize applicants for where their tattoos are located or how many they have.” 

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“Because it is the fashion industry, people tend to be more willing to express their style. This makes it a more accepting atmosphere where you can express yourself through your tattoos. I have an employee that works in the stock area that is covered from her neck to her ankles in tattoos. She also has her Ph.D. and is a university professor that teaches during the day. She does find she can dress differently when she comes to work for me. However, she still finds she dresses a little more conservatively when she is teaching.”

 

Mary Pat Shaw | Acting Vice-President, Lung Association (retired) | Ottawa, ON

broccoli placed in the shape of a lung

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“I think that tattoos are okay as long as visible ones are not offensive.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“A candidate having tattoos would not likely affect my decision to hire them unless their tattoo is offensive or really hideous.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? (for example, would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a client-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?)

“Having visible tattoos might be a relevant factor when deciding to hire someone for a client-forward position. It would depend on the position and the candidate.”

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“Tattoos were somewhat acceptable in my industry, and I did see a few of our younger employees who had tasteful tattoos, especially during the summer months.”

 

Linda Olavesen | Manager, Children’s Aid Society | London, ON

Four children standing in a row holding hands

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“It most certainly depends on the workplace. Generally speaking, in the past, it was more men in blue-collar careers who had tattoos. I think rock stars have made the tattoo trend widespread throughout every demographic. You see an increasing number of both men and women in professional environments with tattoos, although not the full sleeve of a rock star. Mostly their tattoos are discreet and easily covered. The most beautiful tattoo I have ever seen was on the upper arm of a fellow social worker. Her boyfriend was a well-known tattoo artist. Her tattoo was a depiction of her as a gypsy fortune teller with a deck of cards splayed out in front of her.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so what specifically would affect your decision (i.e location of the tattoo, content of tattoo, number of tattoos)?

“I think, in the initial interview, the goal is to get to know all facets of the person in front of you, especially in social services. People seem to like to talk about their tattoos. So once the interview questions are completed and you are confident this person would be a good candidate, assess whether or not the person would be comfortable talking about the significance of their tattoo. Of course, if a tattoo were offensive, displaying misogyny, violence or prejudice towards others, I would not consider hiring that person. I believe very strongly that the content of a person’s tattoo speaks volumes of who the person is and displays their values and self-esteem. However, often when a person gets a tattoo at a young age they regret as an adult this is also a consideration to make in the interview.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring?

“Not really. In social service agencies you are working with people, whether front-line or admin. So, I guess it depends on how open-minded the interviewer is, but primarily the demographic served would be the most important consideration.”

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“Because tattoos are so trendy now, you do see more on both men and women in the helping professions, but they are usually significant in some way to the person who has them. Some are quite beautiful. In my experience, I have noticed they are discreet and easily covered.”

 

Jennifer Rich | Field Placement Coordinator (Business & Media Studies) UofGH | Toronto

Multi-media tools

1. How do you feel personally about tattoos in the workplace?

“As someone without any tattoos, I personally don’t have any issues with them as long as they are not offensive. There are certainly particular fields/jobs where tattoos may be more frowned upon because there are certain standards like in healthcare professionals, law enforcement, teachers, flight attendants, etc. Ultimately, if they are in tasteful places that can be relatively covered up, then I see no issue with tattoos being accepted in the workplace. There is an increase in facial tattoos over the years, which in my opinion out of all the places to get a tattoo, this spot may impact hire-ability in fields working with children, vulnerable groups, government, politics, etc. But in more creative based fields like music, art, training, security/bouncers, sports, this would be widely accepted.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e location of the tattoo, content of tattoo, number of tattoos)?

“I don’t think a tattoo would ever sway my decision to hire someone. Provided they had the necessary skills, qualifications, and professionalism – a tattoo shouldn’t steer my judgment. At the end of the day, you want to be impartial to hire the best person for the role and push aside any personal feelings. In that respect, tattoos really shouldn’t impact that decision-making process. As I mentioned previously, if the tattoos were offensive, very visible and depending on the role the individual is seeking, there could be potential for the employer to be biased.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? Would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a client-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?

“Referring back to my first answer, in fields where people are dealing with children, vulnerable groups, government, politics, etc., tattoos could have an impact on that person’s hire-ability. I don’t think there is necessarily a clear-cut answer. There is a lot of gray area when it comes to tattoos and I think it is a case by case situation.” 

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“Many of my colleagues have tattoos and piercings. Some of their tattoos are visible, while others can be easily hidden. I think as long as you get your job done and do it well, tattoos shouldn’t be a major factor.”

 

Gabriel Buso | Third-Class Stationary Engineer, Resolute Forest Products | Thunder Bay, ON

A mill stack seen through an archway

1. How do you feel personally about tattoos in the workplace?

“I think most tattoos are works of art. I don’t really have any opinion on tattoos in the workplace though. Either people have tattoos, or they don’t. It’s not something I consider.” 

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“It wouldn’t affect hiring much unless the content was violent or discriminatory.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring?

“Not really. Our bosses have tattoos, the younger guys have tattoos. As long as you have the right certification, you can work for us. Appearance isn’t a huge factor.” 

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“There are a lot of tattooed people in the mill. It is quite acceptable to have tattoos in the trades.” 

 

Catherine Olaveson | Sales, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, Senior Living Sector |  Toronto, ON

Senior citizen holding a book and smilling

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“Personally, I have no objections about tattoos in the workplace. I believe there is not as strong of a taboo now, as there has been historically. 

“I truly appreciate the art and meaning of many tattoos, but I feel differently about certain tattoos. I have different perspectives on it, depending on the sector.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“Content absolutely affects my decision to hire in EVERY sector, but I currently work with senior citizens and am required to respect how they would feel about certain tattoo content.  

“Sometimes tattoos can easily be concealed or played down. Our revenue is affected by seniors deciding to live in our community. I have worked in communities where the demographic admires tattoo work and also the opposite, so my decision making is shaped by their values. 

“That being said, I have fought to hire an exceptional candidate who had visible tattoos, but not ones depicting nudity, violence or art based on particular ethnic hatred.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? Would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a client-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?

“All visible tattoos are reviewed whether or not the job opportunity is client-focused or not. Perhaps, the kitchen staff would be less scrutinized because they are not front-line staff. However, when success and profit rely on building trust with an aging demographic, risk management may suggest what effect a particular tattoo would have on building a relationship based on trust. This relationship is often based on a client feeling like you relate to them and understand them.  

“When I worked in the luxury cosmetics industry, tattoos were always on display. They were never hidden and, in some cases, they were even seen as an asset to certain cosmetics lines. For example, MAC embraces tattoo culture, but of course still censors content that may be violent, graphic or illustrate blatant hate for cultures/traditions/ethnicities.  

“In any case, I love the reactions and discussions about tattoos, especially obvious storyboards such as a full sleeve. People of all ages continue to be fascinated by the artwork, but that is different than saying it’s irrelevant to being hired successfully.”

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“In the fashion and luxury cosmetics sectors, tattoos are “normal”. There is no “shock factor” to most tattoos, no matter the location or extent. Vulgar content remains unacceptable. 

“In the retirement community where I currently work, there is an affluent client base with extensive life experiences, most of whom appreciate the artwork of tattoos.  Out of 83 employees, one young woman – a professional server – has 2 full sleeves and the residents love talking to her about the work. Others have more discrete tattoos or less visible ones. 

“There are very few higher-level executives with visible tattoo art.”

 

Bob Kingsley | Assistant Director, Statistics Canada (retired) | Ottawa, ON

Graph on a computer screen

1. How do you personally feel about tattoos in the workplace?

“I am mildly skeptical about tattoos in the workplace.”

2. How likely is a visible tattoo to affect your decision to hire a prospective employee (all else being equal/they have an excellent resume)? If so, what specifically would affect your decision (i.e. location of the tattoo, content of the tattoo, number of tattoos, etc.)?

“Tattoos are somewhat likely to affect hiring decisions. Contents of the tattoo would also be a factor. In my experience, candidates with tattoos could be viewed as people who follow trends, and the preference was to hire independent thinkers.”

3. Are there any types of positions in your industry where a visible tattoo would/would not be a relevant factor in hiring? Would someone with noticeable tattoos be just as likely to obtain a client-focused position as someone applying for a strictly in-office position?

“Someone having tattoos would be most likely relevant for a public-facing position.”

4. Can you comment briefly on the acceptability of tattoos in your industry? Do you see a lot of tattooed individuals in your field?

“Tattoos in the federal government are somewhat acceptable but I did not see very many.”

 

**All interviews have been edited for length and clarity


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