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Outdated views on tattoos might mean 'missing out' on talent

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) says business dress codes should not be based on personal preferences

Negative attitudes towards tattoos and piercings from managers and employees can influence the outcome of recruitment exercises, according to a report from Acas.

Dress codes and appearance at work: Body supplements, body modification and aesthetic labour found that some business owners or managers judged candidates' dress and appearance based on personal or social stereotypes associated with particular physical traits (e.g. tattoos).

It found some public sector workers felt people would not have confidence in the professionalism of a person with a visible tattoo and that in the private sector, some employers raised concerns about how clients or customers might respond to tattoos.

Acas has warned that an outdated attitude towards people with tattoos could lead to employers missing out on young talent, as about one in three young people have a tattoo.

In light of the findings Acas has revised its dress code recommendations. Following the recent case of a temporary worker who was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels at work, the new guidelines state that any dress code should not be stricter for one gender over the other. It also suggests that employers could adopt a more casual approach to dress during the summer, but this may depend on the type of business.

The researchers suggest that it is good practice when drafting or updating a dress code for an employer to consider the reasoning behind it, rather than relying on their own judgements. Consulting with employees over any proposed dress code may help ensure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and its workers.

Acas head of equality Stephen Williams warned that businesses should not let personal taste dictate a dress code.

“Businesses are perfectly within their right to have rules around appearance at work, but these rules should be based on the law where appropriate and the needs of the business, not managers’ personal preferences,” he said.

“We know that employers with a diverse workforce can reap many business benefits as they can tap into the knowledge and skills of staff from a wide range of backgrounds. Almost a third of young people now have tattoos so, while it remains a legitimate business decision, a dress code that restricts people with tattoos might mean companies are missing out on talented workers.”