Do Tattoos Really Harm Your Career Prospects In 2017?

We were all sat down and spun the tale. “Don’t get a tattoo. No one will give you a job. You’ll have to cover it up and sweat through 40 degree days in a jumper because you made a dumb decision that has ruined you for life. Then you’ll get pregnant, and die.” Or something along those lines. I don’t know, parents hate tattoos a lot so that’s probably a direct quote.

But of course, their berating didn’t work. Today, one in five Australians have a tattoo of some kind, meaning we spend a collective $98 million a year on ink. Not all of them are the imposing fire breathing dragons or permanent declarations of short-lived love our Dads were worried we’d get, though. Some are small insignias, or fan art printed in discreet places on our body. Whatever they are, they tell you a lot about a person and how they’ve chosen to present themselves to the world.

That’s why the concept that they could prevent you from getting a job is kind of disappointing.

A recent report from YouGov revealed that 11% of women believe having tattoos has negatively impacted their career. It’s a huge number, and no doubt encouraged by the 48% of Australians who still view tattoos as a negative thing.

But, guys. This is 2017. Do we really still care about how some people express themselves? Are employers honestly crossing people off lists if they’ve got visible tattoos?

Depends on who you’re asking

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Unfortunately, depending on what career path you choose to pursue, having tattoos could really harm your chances of snagging a role.

Diane van den Broek, Associate Professor in Work and Organisational Studies from the University of Sydney, told The Cusp that tattoos are still frowned upon in select places. “Creative industries and other less conventional jobs may not mind but visible tattoos are actually banned in many workplaces,” she said. “Increasingly so.”

Some airlines won’t consider applicants with visible tattoos. The Defence Force says that it will consider applicants who have tattoos that can be concealed by clothes, but vehemently prohibit face or hand tattoos. Same as the NSW Police Force.

This is probably because, like mentioned above, a huge section of society still views them negatively. In fact, a study conducted last year found that consumers negatively perceive service staff that have tattoos. As Alexandra Cain pointed out in The Sydney Morning Herald, “businesses need to pull every lever possible to ensure their business remains viable and competitive. In some sectors having staff with a tattoo could be an advantage… In more conservative sectors it will be a distinct disadvantage.”

Hang on, isn’t that discrimination?

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Getting knocked back for a job because of your visible appearance seems discriminatory, right? Well, according to the law it’s actually not.

A spokeswoman from the Fair Work Ombudsman told, “Physical appearance is not a protected attribute under the Fair Work Act.” She pointed out that refusing to hire someone based on “race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin” is definitely illegal. Only cultural tattoos will it be protected by legislation.

This is mostly because none of the above things are a choice. Recreational tattoos are a choice that people make about their personal presentation, albeit a pretty one. But if it doesn’t align with a company’s values, they’re well within their rights to turn you down.

Diane agrees, she said, “There is no law protecting tattooed workers. The issue is largely up to firms to decide on their codes of presentation, whether written or unwritten.” She adds, “Victoria does have ‘physical features’ as a trait for discrimination where tattoos can be considered. However, workers in all other jurisdictions have no protection.”

Diane offered some advice on how to sidestep the issue. “Try to find out what firms expect before you go to job interviews so you can wear appropriate clothes that don’t disadvantage your chance of getting the job,” she says. “Or, choose a firm (if you have a choice) that aligns with your lifestyle choices.”

Or, of course, there’s always the option of getting them removed.

Josephine is a writer from western Sydney. You can find her words in Junkee, The Cusp, AWOL, The Guardian and on food she bagsed in the fridge.