Body Art Still Lacks Employer Stamp of Approval

By Kathy Gurchiek Aug 6, 2007
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People with tattoos and body piercings are branded with stereotypes that can hurt their chances of finding a job.

“Regardless of who the real person may be,” stereotypes associated with piercings and tattoos can affect others’ perceptions of people with body art, commented one unidentified respondent to Vault Inc.’s 2007 Tattoo and Body Piercing Survey.

Vault surveyed 468 workers at a variety of industries across the United States. Just under half, or 42 percent, have permanent body art other than pierced ears.

“In general, individuals with tattoos and body piercings are often viewed as ‘rougher’ or ‘less educated,’ ” the respondent said.

Displaying body art is a personal choice that can hinder a person’s prospects of finding a job, most said, with one unidentified person admitting to removing a nose ring so as to improve employment prospects.

Policy? What Policy?

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey in May 2006 of 434 HR professionals found that a little more than one-third, or 35.9 percent, of organizations have formal or informal policies addressing body piercings. Less than one-fourth, or 22.3 percent, have a formal or informal policy addressing tattoos.

Policies addressing personal appearance tend to lean toward clothing style (96.5 percent), footwear (70 percent), and, to a lesser extent, facial hair (28.7 percent), hairstyle (21.7 percent), makeup (10.7 percent) and aspects such as jewelry, perfume, nail length and color, and personal hygiene, SHRM found.

Only 16 percent of the workers Vault surveyed said their employer has a policy on tattoos and/or body piercings. Nearly half, or 49 percent, said there was no such policy, and 35 percent didn’t know if their employer had such a policy.

“If you work at one of our retail stores, you cannot have any visible piercings, aside from the ears, and no visible tattoos,” said one worker commenting for Vault’s survey.

Adhering to policy can make a difference in keeping a job, although only 2 percent of workers that Vault surveyed had ever been fired or disciplined because of their tattoos or piercings.

One unidentified person working at a restaurant was fired for having a nose ring, and a person working at a coffeehouse received three warnings about a tongue ring before being written up by a supervisor.

Another recalled being asked to remove a nose ring before going to court to take a deposition.

“I followed this direction for a few months, but then stopped. As soon as people got used to it, it was no longer an issue,” the unidentified worker commented.

Whether a worker shows off or conceals body art has a lot to do with the industry he or she is in. Viewers of the 2006 season of TV show “Project Runway” will recall the tattoos that covered the neck of Jeffrey Sebelia, a fashion designer for rock musicians.

And one worker in the Vault survey noted that, “At my day job in finance I keep my tattoos concealed. But at my night job as a booking agent I show them off.”

An employer can’t judge what it can’t see, one person pointed out, and 53 percent of those with tattoos or piercings conceal their body art while at work.

With 60 percent saying they had no tattoos, and 80 percent saying they had no piercings, those surveyed were a far cry from Pierce, the abundantly body-art-adorned character in the comic strip “Zits,” who sports a stud in his tongue, posts in his lips, rings in his nose and eyebrows, and 12 earrings on each ear.

One respondent’s 42 piercings, however, puts Pierce to shame.

“I have 25 in the left ear, 12 in my right ear, two in my nose, one under my lip and one in each nipple.

“What can I say?” the unidentified worker commented. “It was the ’80s, I was a punk.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org

For the latest HR-related business and government news, go daily to www.shrm.org/hrnews

Related Articles:

Survey: The Demographics of Tattoos and Piercings, SHRM Diversity Focus Area, February 2007

Related Resources:

Policy On Jewelry And Tattoos, SHRM Knowledge Center

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