Advice From the Trenches

Advice From the Trenches: Tattoo You

Dear C:

When my daughter was living in our home, I had a rule: “No tattoos until you are grown enough to make adult decisions!“ She was good about it – until she left home and covered her arms with so many tattoos that when people see her in a sleeveless patterned blouse, they think it’s the sleeves. It’s a little disturbing, but she’s an adult and that’s that.

Now, my 16-year old is inspired and wants to get her first tattoo. I tell her she has to wait. She thinks I’m unfair because her sister has so many. She calls me a hypocrite. Logical reasons like “if you change your mind and want it off, it’ll cost you 10 times what it cost to put it on,” don’t help.

Why can’t she realize it could seriously affect her ability to get a job?       

– Lamenting Mom

C says:

I saw a recent article in the UK publication The Independent that talked about an Australian bar that refused entrance to musician Post Malone because of his “offensive facial tattoos,” which included skulls, barbed wire under his hairline, and the words “Stay Away” over his eyebrow. Apparently, the outrage was so great over this violation of Malone’s personal freedom of expression that the bar bent over backwards apologizing and distanced themselves by shifting blame to their outside contract security team.

However, Post Malone is a big star in the music scene today and your daughter’s experience might be different. It’s something to consider – but when I did some research online, the recent surveys and news articles painted an uneven picture.

As far as jobs go, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 currently protects employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, but there is no existing legislation – federal, state, or municipal – which prohibits discrimination against people with tattoos in the workplace.

Essentially, this means that any employer who doesn’t appreciate this fashion trend and feels it conflicts with his business can either order a cover-up or decide to just not hire. Despite the fact that tattoos are now recognized as part of mainstream culture, many people are still judgmental towards tattoos and associate them with risky or even criminal behavior. This gives a lot of businesses a good excuse to exclude ink-decorated employees.

However, in a lot of ways, general attitudes have changed. In more recent years, courts have actually begun to recognize tattooing as a form of free speech. In 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that “the act of tattooing is artistic expression protected by the First Amendment, as tattooing is virtually indistinguishable from other protected forms of artistic expression; the principal difference between a tattoo and, for example, a pen-and-ink drawing, is that a tattoo is engrafted onto a person’s skin rather than drawn on paper.” And in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that a “tattoo itself is pure speech, and the process of tattooing is also expressive activity for First Amendment purposes.” What this means is that now tattoos and the act of tattooing are forms of expression protected by the First Amendment. You may not be able to stop an employer from turning you away, but no one can stop you from your own version of artistic expression.

Here are the most recent stats I found on tattoos in the workplace today:

• About 40% of the US workforce has tattoos.

• Nearly all women are fine with their coworkers showing tattoos at work.

• Only 12% of people with tattoos have them visible in the workplace.

• Women are more likely to face discrimination because of tattoos at work     than men.

• About 76% of people believe tattoos hurt an applicant’s chances in an interview.

• Almost 90% of people accept ink on professional athletes and personal trainers.

However, over 40% of people believe tattoos are inappropriate at work.

What all this probably means is that Post Malone can get away with his tats, but your average ink- illustrated  lawyer isn’t about to get promoted to partnership in a Wall Street firm. So maybe the question your daughter should ask herself is: What do I want to do when I enter the adult world? And, am I really, REALLY sure?