Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

    Tattoos in the Workplace

    For many years, tattoos have been present in many cultures across the globe. Often, they are symbolic of a person or event and have an emotional significance for those who proudly display them. Stemming from conservative, protestant values, America has traditionally viewed tattoos as taboo. Some employers even choose not to hire applicants whose tattoos are visible. 

    During the cultural transition from the conservative 50’s to the liberal 60’s, when unconventional forms of self-expression became more acceptable, tattoos also became more prevalent. No longer were tattoos the secrets hidden on lower backs; today, many have embraced tattoos as an art form, filling up their entire arms to create tattoo “sleeves.”

    According to the Food and Drug Administration, nearly 45 million Americans have tattoos, making up 14 percent of the population. In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was found that this number is even higher for adults between the ages of 26-40, with an estimated 40 percent of them having at least one tattoo.

    While American culture may have become more accepting towards these body marks, whether or not employers have caught up with this liberal mindset is questionable. Making the decision to have a tattoo, while more widely accepted than it was in the past, still has the potential to hinder a person’s career.

    Audrey Magnuson, UTSA director of the career center, believes that when it comes to personal appearance, “it depends on the work center. The employer has the right to determine what they feel is professional in the public presentation they give to their customers and clients,” she says. “Often times they will have a dress code or requirements on how hair may be worn.”

    When it comes to tattoos, “It varies… it’s not something fully accepted by the general population,” says Magnuson. “If it can be covered, it should be covered, but it’s a personal choice that needs to be taken into consideration by the individual.”

    What is deemed acceptable varies widely among different types of companies. Traditionally, institutions such as law firms and public schools have made it mandatory that tattoos not be visible.

    An article in Forbes written by Larissa Faw looked at companies that are strict on personal appearance. Companies that won’t hire potential employees based on the visibility of their tattoos include, Geico Insurance, U.S. Postal Service, Starwood Hotels and Denny’s. The large financial bank USB has a very strict policy on tattoos and personal appearance, even mandating that women are not allowed to wear more than seven jewels and that scarves must be tied only in authorized knots. 

    Selectively hiring based on whether or not a person has tattoos is viewed by some as discrimination. The state of South Carolina has gone so far as to outlaw tattooing unless for reconstructive purposes. In the case of The State of South Carolina v. Ronald P. White, Ron White was arrested after he protested the ban by tattooing a person on the local evening news. White claimed tattooing was a freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment. The court’s rebuttal disagreed that tattooing was protected by the First Amendment and claimed that tattooing raised issues of health and safety. White was ultimately sentenced to a year in prison and assessed a $2,500 fine.

    More recently established businesses, such as Rackspace, a successful Internet hosting company, and, according to Fortune Magazine, one of the 100 Best Places to Work, have very lenient policies concerning personal appearance.

    A media representative of Rackspace in San Antonio stated in an interview that the company values, “substance over flash.” The representative stated that Rackspace “doesn’t have much of a dress code.” When it comes to tattoos among their employees, “they are not uncommon. We don’t pay too much attention to the exterior as long as you’re a good worker. Tattoos don’t have an impact on work,” she says.

    This sort of laid-back policy is typical of twenty-first century businesses. Caution should still be exercised for those whose goal is to gain employment with longer standing conservative institutions.

    However, it is evident that, in American culture, tattoos are becoming more prevalent methods of self-expression.