How Acceptable Is Body Art At Work?

Moving between cultures is still a risky business for expats who can find what they say or do badly misinterpreted in their new home.

Social and business etiquette varies vastly between countries, and something acceptable in one can turn out to be an enormous faux pas in another.

A gesture, nod or word can cause offence.

Children make jokes about rubbing noses with Eskimos – which is often an offensive word to Inuit people in Alaska.

Customs and culture can also lead to rifts. Western expats in the Middle East are confused by attitudes to alcohol, women and religion that are commonplace back home.

Taboo tattoos

The outcry over Muslim women wearing the burkah in France is one prominent example.

How can armed police ever justify holding up women simply enjoying a warm day on the beach with their families, whatever they are wearing?

Then there are tattoos.

Very public social and religious demonstrations in some countries, and taboo in others, tattoos can vex employers.

The question is should body art remain under cover in the workplace.

Body art extends further than tattoos, but to piercings as well.

In Britain, employers can refuse to give a job to someone with tattoos as body art is not protected from discrimination by the Equality Act.

Opinions influenced by stereotypes

However, some argue body art is a choice and we should not discriminate someone who has made a decision to sport a tattoo or piercing just as employers cannot discriminate against someone who has made a religious choice.

“Tattoos are perhaps seen by some as an indication of someone’s background, often associated with criminal behaviour, anti-establishment thinking and a lack of respect for authority,” said recruitment consultant Kate Headley.

“Yet these are all assumptions based on conceptions created by a broader society influenced by stereotypes, like the tendency for people with tattoos being depicted as the bad guys in fiction,”

Body art is a growing topic for debate as experts estimate around a third of under-35s have at least one piercing or tattoo and the choice is becoming more common as the number of tattoo parlours proliferates to at least 2,300 high street shops.