Tattoos – Make or Break for Job Candidates?

Tattoos – make or break for job candidates?

By Tammy Shaw


Should tattoos disqualify job candidates from a position?

Experts and HR professionals disagree.

In a 2016 poll, three out of 10 people in the United States responded that they had one or more tattoos, 50 percent more than in 2012 when two in 10 reported body art.

The same poll found a majority of the country felt comfortable with a tattoo in the workplace, at the same time when the country seems to be trending more casual – a tie-less work environment, for instance.

Human resource departments are taking notice and employers are moving toward acceptance. Ink appears across a spectrum of jobs – teachers, doctors, politicians and judges.

Legal compliance

Law is typically on the side of HR managers who refuse to hire tattooed job seekers, as long as the organization’s dress code is enforced equally and is not discriminatory. For instance, a different policy for men and woman, lower level employees versus the higher echelon, one ethnicity or race compared to another or one department and not another are considered discriminatory.

HR can also get into trouble if tattoos are a part of one’s religion. On the flip side, human resource manager may get into trouble if a supervisor sports a Confederate flag tattoo, then fires a black worker. Think “hostile workplace.”

Make sure tattoo issues don’t discriminate against a protected class and that you have a valid business reason for firing someone with a tattoo.


A LinkedIn study revealed 88 percent of HR professionals and recruiters responded that a recruit’s career potential was limited by a tattoo. Image ruled the study – three quarters responded that image was a significant factor in hiring of dismissing candidates.

Four out of ten said they rejected a candidate with the experience they were looking for due to a visible tattoo, but only two-fifths said the decision was because of a strict dress code in place. surveyed over 2,500. Of those, 12 percent self-reported a visible tattoo. Only three percent reported body piercings other than an earring. Tattoos, 76 percent of respondents answered, negatively affected a job interview. Neary 40 percent said tattoos and piercings “reflect poorly on their employers.”

Tattoos, 42 percent think, are always inappropriate work attire. However, only 4 percent with visible body art report discrimination.

Education levels

  • 20 percent of tattoo wearers are high school grads
  • 19 percent, associate’s degree
  • 10 percent, bachelor’s degree
  • 8 percent, master’s degree
  • 3 percent, Ph.D.

The same breakdown correlates with appropriateness/inappropriateness of tats.

Location, location, location

Geographically, the mountain region – 16 percent – has the most ink wearers, while west south central has the least, 8 percent.


Agriculture and ranching workers wear the most ink – 22 percent, while government workers have the least, 8 percent.

Candidates, 23 percent, study a company’s dress code regarding tattoos, for or against, before they decide to take an offer.

Missing out

However, ink may mean not recruiting skilled applicants. Some call this “image bias.” Younger people show ink at a much higher rate than older workers.

Younger people were more likely to have a tattoo – 47 percent millennials, 36 percent gen Xers and 13 percent baby boomers had ink. Only one percent over 60 report visible tattoos, according to

The younger respondent and the less educated worker, according to the survey, the more tolerant of tattoos. Eighteen to 25-year-olds were the most tolerant. Only 22 percent thought body art was inappropriate in the workplace, whereas 63 percent of 60 or older found tattoos objectionable.


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