Recruiting, Talent

Job Candidates with Tattoos and Piercings

Recruiters and hiring managers, take note. It is increasingly likely that a job candidate will have a tattoo, or even more than one.

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Nearly three in 10 Americans (29 percent) have at least one tattoo, according to a 2015 Harris Poll, up from approximately two in 10 (21 percent) in 2011. And among Americans sporting ink, approximately seven in 10 (69 percent) have two or more tattoos.
Millennials are the job candidates most likely to have tattoos. In fact, almost half of these workers, 47 percent, have at least one tattoo, and 37 percent have two or more. A significant number of Millennials, 15 percent, have five or more tattoos.
Gen Xers are also fans of body art: 36 percent have ink, 24 percent have two or more tattoos, and 9 percent have five or more tattoos.
When it comes to piercings, findings are similar. Among people born after 1980, one in four has a piercing some place other than an earlobe, according to the Pew Research Center.

Hiring Policies

As might be expected, company hiring policies as they pertain to tattoos and piercings vary greatly. Creative fields, like tech, generally are more accepting of such forms of self-expression. Businesses where staff members interact with a wide segment of the customer population tend to be more conservative when it comes to body art.
AMC Entertainment, which owns movie theatres worldwide, for example, will not hire film crew members with visible tattoos above the collarbone, facial piercings, and unnatural colored hair.
Airlines typically won’t hire flight attendants with visible tattoos. Regional carrier SkyWest Airlines is one example. SkyWest even includes information about tattoos at its website, under the heading, Flight Attendant Career Guide: “Tattoos must not be visible at any time while in uniform. Examples of visible tattoo locations include, but are not limited to, hands, arms, neck, face, legs, and feet. Tattoos cannot be concealed by the use of makeup and/or bandages.”

Consistency in Hiring

Companies that wish to establish a policy prohibiting tattoos and piercings should follow best practices. As with all policies, it is important that guidelines be written and specific. For example, “excessive tattoos” is subject to interpretation. Similarly, attempting to define tattoos as “tasteful” vs. “offensive” will not serve your company well.
In general, the more details a policy provides the better. The term “unnatural colored hair,” for example, would benefit from additional information, as in “unnatural colored hair (dyed pink, blue, green or purple, for example).”
It is also important that policies be enforced consistently.
However, common sense may occasionally need to prevail.
In 2006, AMC fired an 80-year-old military veteran, after learning that he had tattoos on his forearms—tattoos he got when he was a 17-year-old Marine. The man had worked as a ticket taker at a New Jersey cinema for 15 years before the faded tattoos, which were reminders of his World War II service, were discovered. After the veteran contacted a lawyer and the local media were alerted, the employee was reinstated, with back pay.
The story, originally featured in the Asbury Park Press, has since been shared on Cinema Treasures, a website about movie theaters. It has also become an urban legend among employees and job candidates with ink.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.