NY Times on Tattoos in the Workplace
08:42 AM
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Every now and again there's a wave of articles on tattoos in the workplace, and here's how they all go:  more people have tattoos so now there are more workers with tattoos who no longer want to cover them up. They cite the latest Harris Poll or Pew Research poll because statistics are sexy. And then they'll use words like "tats" or "inked up" simply to annoy me.

Oh, and then there are the comments from the masses! If you think tattoo discrimination no longer exists, read the comments section of any tattoo article around the world -- go ahead, I'll wait --  and see that there are multitudes of people with unblemished skin who are personally offended by yours. They say that don't want you serving them coffee or selling them panties. There's always some lower level manager who barks that he would never hire someone with tattoos, of course not knowing that his CEO probably has one. With the strong response to these articles -- which advertisers love because they can flash more products in your face while you're seething at Bob from Boise -- you'll find that the same reporting gets thrown out there.

Yesterday the NY Times published its own tattoos-at-work story. I expected it to be better than most, because it is the Times, but there were the usual cliches:  "tattoos are no longer the sole province of gang members, garage mechanics ..." Ah mechanics! That's more clever than sailors and bikers. But the verbiage is almost always the same. Then the statistics follow. Then they call in the lawyers to comment on discrimination. Many times that's me, but our answers are usually all the same:  Generally companies have a great deal of discretion in hiring and enforcing their workplace appearance policies as long as they don't discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, race, color, or national origin under Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act.

The take-away from the NY Times article is that those in conservative offices are more likely to cover up than those in more creative fields. No will will gasp in disbelief at that. What would have meatier is to do some research on the public perception of tattoos, now that so many more people are covered, now there we are inundated with reality shows, now that Kat Von D is a best selling author. And then see how those perceptions affect people's wallets.

Internet comment trolls aside, are people who don't like tattoos not going to go to a restaurant or not buying a Starbucks coffee because some employees may have them? Does their cash follow their opinions on the art? In a number of cases it may. The Starbucks in a small religious town may feel backlash but it's not going to happen in my hood in Brooklyn. Perhaps having managers of different regions decide the policy would be a better option than a company-wide ban.

I do think companies that have a legitimate right to want to protect their brand image should be able to do so within the bounds of the law, but they should do so within the bounds of common sense. I've used this example before, but I do think that if I wanted to hire just heavily tattooed badass attorneys, I should be allowed to. If I want to reach a tattoo collector and artist clientele, having just tattooed attorneys conveys that we have a personal understanding the issues. And that may be total bullshit. You don't need a tattoo to provide effective legal services to a tattoo studio, but creating brand trust -- just like all luxury brands do -- has a greater reach to your target market.

Bottom line:  We need to fight discrimination. We need to do so by gathering information to prove that the stereotypes are wrong. But we also need to balance that with legitimate rights of people and companies to do business the way they want. There needs to be corporate responsibility but also personal responsibility for our decisions. There needs to be a balance.

Here are some past post on tattoos and discrimination on N+S:

Thanks to Bill of Tattoosday for the NY Times link!

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