Tattoo or Not Tattoo?

Previous regulations banned tattoos that would not be covered by a shirt. Now tattoos are allowed on hands and back of the neck but not on the face or throat.

The change has come about because Capita (the organisation to whom the Army has outsourced its recruitment) has found it difficult to obtain sufficient numbers of recruits. It therefore recommended relaxing the restrictions arguing that tattoos are much more acceptable in society at the current time and that the previous rules unnecessarily limited the potential number of recruits.

While most employers won’t necessarily need to worry about their employees potentially having frequent contact with the Queen and other heads of state, they may well be concerned about the image their staff give to the public and more importantly to prospective customers.

An employer can set out requirements for dress and on issues such as piercings, tattoos, etc. and so long as they do not fall foul of anti-discrimination laws that is perfectly legal. It will be an interesting case if someone ever tries to argue that their tattoo or piercing is related to their religion or belief system.

I am not aware of any religion or belief system that mandates tattoing or piercing but as we saw in the “cross-wearing cases”, that is not necessarily required. All that is needed is that the manifestation is based on a belief of sufficient cogency, seriousness, coherence and importance. I could well see someone with a crucifix tattoo arguing that that is a manifestation of their Christian belief and as such any ban on such a tattoo would need to be justified and proportionate. As we have seen with crucifix cases, that can be very difficult to establish, especially since, as the Army’s decision shows, what is acceptable in terms of public appearance can be subject to change.

A claim that a ban on tattooing is an act of race discrimination would probably be even harder to defend given the right (or wrong) claimant. There are numerous cultures where tattooing is an important tradition and a member of one of those who was prevented from taking a job or forced to leave because of their ethnic tattoo might well have a claim.

If you need advice on this or any other employment law issue, please contact Ian Pinder on 01227 813400.