To tattoo or not to tattoo – that is the question

  • 23/10/2015

Over the past ten years the rise of the tattoo into the mainstream culture has been phenomenal; what was once the preserve of the sailor, bikie and jailbird is now a ubiquitous symbol of freedom of expression and not just with the young, but also with all ages and sectors of society.

It is estimated that at least 10% of the Australian population now have some form of tattoo and it’s not just the young people getting inked up, many people in their 50’s and 60’s, in particular women are getting new tattoos.

So how is this playing out in the Australian workplace? For small hidden tattoos there’s no problem as they are hidden away and not seen, but what about the very fashionable full sleeve – including hand or the ever-increasing neck or face ink.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, which deals with discrimination in the workplace, tattoos are “not a right” so are not covered by the law, except if they are of cultural significance such as a New Zealand Māori with face tattoos.

However, for the rest of us, it’s up to the discretion of our employer and the culture of the organisation. In saying that, the standards within any organisation will need to be applied fairly or they might be breaching the law in terms of equal treatment of employees.

I believe that tattoos still carry some stigma (even from the young) so therefore it will be important to think carefully about the choice of your tattoo, positioning and size before getting one done. For example, having a map of Australia filled in with the colours and stars of the Australian flag can in the minds of some people brand you a racist. This may not be the case, but this is the subtle message some people may derive from seeing the tattoo, meaning you could make non-white or new Australians feel very uncomfortable if it’s on your leg and you regularly wear shorts to work. Or even something as minor as a wrist tattoo of your football team can put you in a certain light with others.

It may not be getting a job that’s the issue, it could also stunt your promotion prospects.  Imagine you have a support role in the office and a customer facing position comes up, before getting your tattoo, you were being groomed for this role and then you came in one Monday morning sporting a brand new hand or neck tattoo. This could change the whole notion of you “meeting and greeting” clients, as it may be seen as inappropriate for a person with visible tattoos to represent the company to the public.

In short it’s your choice, but with every action there is a reaction and a consequence.



Rum Charles