Acceptance of tattoos in workplace varies from employer to employer

Brandon Roberts makes an outline of a dragon as he works to cover an exisiting tattoo on Katrina Boston's
shoulder. Roberts is Boston's tattoo artist of choice and has had him cover other previous tattoos.
Brandon, who has 11 years experience under his belt, currently works at Capital City Tattoos on High
Street in Jefferson City.

Brandon Roberts makes an outline of a dragon as he works to cover an exisiting tattoo on Katrina Boston's shoulder. Roberts is Boston's tattoo artist of choice and has had him cover other previous tattoos. Brandon, who has 11 years experience under his belt, currently works at Capital City Tattoos on High Street in Jefferson City. Photo by Julie Smith.

A mark of remembrance, words of wisdom or the results of a wild night may have ramifications beyond a permanent alteration of your skin.

Tattoos could leave their impression on more than just an individual’s appearance: They may impact his or her employment opportunities, as well.

The presence of tattoos in the workplace sometimes appears on a company’s dress code policy and could affect the possibility of obtaining a position. This could become a point of greater controversy as more members of the Millennial Generation enter the workforce.

Millennials, whose birth dates range from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, sport the most ink with 38 percent claiming to have at least one tattoo, according to a Pew Research Survey. Gen Xers, those born from the early 1960s to early 1980s, trail only slightly at 32 percent.

Despite the portion of individuals with tattoos, a vast majority conceal theirs with clothing: 72 percent of adults reported that their tattoos were not usually visible.

Though some may question the constitutionality of offering employment based on that characteristic of appearance, bans on tattoos in the workplace do fall in accordance with the Missouri Human Rights Act, which bans several other varieties of workplace discrimination, according to Tom Bastian, director of communications for the Missouri Department of Labor.

Tattoo policies may vary greatly between different industries, as well as between different positions in the same workplace.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s policy for troopers prohibits “objectionable tattoos/brands,” as well as “tattoos on the head, neck, hands and below the upper arms,” according to Lt. John Hotz. The policy has been in place for more than 25 years, he said.

“You won’t see troopers with tattoos. That’s our tradition to have uniform appearance,” he said.

Jefferson City Public Schools, Jefferson City’s fourth largest employer, does not have a specific tattoo policy, according to David Luther, assistant to the superintendent for school-community relations.

Administrators may “ask staff to be discreet” in allowing their tattoos to be visible, though that may “vary from building to building,” he said.

St. Mary’s Health Center permits tattoos in the workplace though they should be “limited and, if possible, covered,” according to Heather Feeler, marketing and communications specialist.

St. Mary’s also prohibits offensive tattoos, she said. Feeler said the policy is for being “customer-focused and professional.”

Central Bancompany requires employees who work directly with customers to have their tattoos covered with a band-aid, according to Christine Ellinger, human resource director.

Shawn Pope, owner and artist at Old Town Tattoo, works primarily on larger scale designs and cover-ups.

When it comes to workplace restrictions about tattoos, “…it just depends on your geographic location,” he said.

“If you go to other countries or to Hawaii, the bank teller will have visible tattoos. If you go to the bank here, it’s business-professional. There’s no visible tattoos,” Pope said.

Having worked in the Jefferson City area for the majority of his career, Pope has tattooed many people concerned about workplace restrictions, he said.

“It happens a lot. Usually, people get short-sleeve length,” he said.

Though Pope has observed many limited tattoos to more easily concealed locations, he said he sees a lot of variability in workplace restrictions, he said.

“Some jobs aren’t as strict about it. It also depends on what you get tattooed. It depends on your job. It depends on who your boss is,” Pope said.

But, he added, “Most people coming in to get them already have a job or don’t care. It’s becoming more accepted in the world.”

Pope said he disagrees with the workplace restrictions. “I think it’s prejudiced and unconstitutional…as long as it (the tattoo in question) is not a gang sign, vulgar or offensive,” he said.

While a minority of visible tattoos carry offensive connotations, people with offensive visible tattoos “…are not going to have a job that has restrictions in the first place,” Pope said.

Derek Schlotter of Capital Tattoo Company also views the effects of workplace restrictions on his about 30-40 percent of his customers’ requests.

“A lot of people have to put tattoos where you can’t see them because of the close mindedness of our community. People from McDonald’s workers all the way up to doctors and lawyers don’t want their colleagues to see their tattoos,” he said.

Schlotter does photo-realistic and portrait-style work, he said.

Similar to Pope, Schlotter also believes workplace restrictions on tattoos will reach their eventual evanescence, he said.

“People like to push the limits, which is good … because the more they push, the more it’s going to get relaxed and become more accepted in the workplace,” he said.

Katrina Boston has experienced few tattoo restrictions at her places of employment, but expects to be subjected to more in the future, she said.

Boston plans to graduate soon from Bryan University in Columbia with a degree in medical assistance. She will then likely work in a hospital or medical office, she said.

“I know I’m going to have a problem in the future in the medical field,” she said.

Boston currently has 12 tattoos and plans to get more, she said. More recently, she has had older tattoos covered up or enhanced, often to a larger size, she said.

“Now it looks way better. It makes you feel more confident,” Boston said.

Despite the visibility of her tattoos when wearing short sleeves, “I’ve never had trouble getting a job,” she said. “They actually compliment me on them in the interviews.”

Boston currently works in a housekeeping position at Fairfield Inn in Jefferson City, she said.

Though a few of the companies she’s worked at have had a tattoo policy, they did not force Boston to cover up her tattoos because her tattoos are not “gang-related,” she said.

Boston said she did not consider possible workplace tattoo restrictions when she received her first few tattoos; however, she does not regret their placement.

“If you’re going to regret it, you just shouldn’t put it there,” Boston said.

Boston believes that companies in the medical field may prohibit visible tattoos because of the possibility of distracting customers, she said.

“Some people feel offended about people marking up their body. For some, it’s religious. But some people just don’t approve,” she said.

Boston has no apprehension about possible workplace restrictions on tattoos, she said.

“It doesn’t bother me. Everyone’s a different person. You just try to respect it and go along with it,” she said.

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