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Discrimination against tattoos, piercings in the workplace needs to stop

By in Opinions

tattooFADMore common than not these days is a trip to the tattoo parlor with little regard for how it could affect future life decisions, like a professional career. This includes everything from a loopy cursive foot quote, that cute little tat behind the ear, thigh and rib tattoos or a colourful sleeve.

Tattoos seem like something unique to our generation; my parents’ generation certainly does not sport the same frequency of tattoos and definitely not my grandparents either. What was once a rarity has become much more mainstream. Still, tattoos do hold some influence over the hiring process in the workplace, but due to the increasing number of people walking around inked, discrimination in the workplace because of tattoos should not be occurring.

I know many people who have gotten a tattoo placed somewhere on their body where it will be easy to hide if necessary — in most cases because of a job. If someone has a visible tattoo, does that make them any less capable or genuine than a person whose skin is left uninked? Probably not, but the stereotype has not been squashed regardless.

According to a study from the Pew Research Center, a non-profit American research organization specializing in public polling, four out of 10 people aged 18–40 have one or more tattoos. Additionally, one in 20 people have multiple body piercings in a variety of places on their bodies, not just the ear lobes.

Many cultures around the world, past and present, use tattoos as symbols of expression, tradition and art. In Western culture, the stereotype of tattoos being associated as ‘bad’ tends to come from the fact that tattoos were once reserved only for the gritty lifestyles of sailors, soldiers and criminals. Tattoos functioned as unmistakable marks to represent whichever group the person belonged to, therefore used as an identification symbol for the rebels of society. Certainly nobody wants to hire a criminal, but because this uniqueness of the tattoo is no longer reserved for certain types of people in society, so too should the stereotype be dropped.

As tattoos have become mainstream, their representation has changed along with the motivation for getting them. Tattoos usually represent something significant to the individual, but they do not dictate what type of person they are. If you have been to jail, you also do not need a tattoo that signifies that. Still the stigma tends to remain over whether or not you can trust to hire someone with a tattoo or piercings in the workplace.

The disconnect between the way different generations view tattoos is probably the reason for any discrimination that happens within the hiring process. If bosses or professionals are older, they may hold onto the view that tattoos equal rebellion, therefore a potential job candidate who has one cannot be trusted.

It is likely that some business owners are more conservative than others and there may be some variation between more professional and unprofessional job settings. But some companies also want to maintain a certain look or standard. Disney World, for example, has policies in place regarding tattoos that insure all employees cover up any visible tattoos with make-up so they are completely hidden. If a tattoo is simply too large and too visible, the person will most likely not be hired.

As the happiest place on earth, — it really is, I can attest — Disney World promotes a family centered experience that is suppose to be both innocent and magical. It makes sense that tattoos do not fit this bill because they do make statements, whether intentional or not.

Piercings can be more easily hidden if they are located on the body. However, facial piercings may encounter the same prejudice as tattoos, as they seem to have the ‘bad’ or ‘rebellious’ stigma attached to them as well.

When hiring a person, their qualifications and individual character should be the main factors to consider, not the skull and crossbones they may be hiding under their t-shirt. Nevertheless, I have encountered many people who have tattoos and personally, tattoos — unless poorly done — do not make me cringe.

Of course, there are limits. Someone with overt facial tattoos is probably not going to be hired to teach kindergarten — and that’s a fair boundary. While discrimination against tattoos seems to be a current problem, as more and more tattooed men and women enter the workforce and begin their professional lives, it may not be possible to have any sort of tattoo regulation because it will mean discriminating against a large number of people.

With a change in what tattoos represent, the stereotype around them should also have changed. But like many things, unfortunately we know that is not always the case.

Naomi Zurevinski / Opinions Editor

Graphic: Stephanie Mah / Graphics Editor

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