Are tattoos acceptable in the workplace?

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Maura Zurick


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Tattoos can leave more than a permanent mark on the body; they can also leave a mark on the future.

The stigma against tattoos might be a generational misconception or just a business world taboo, but body art is having an impact on students’ lives now.

The White-Collar Employee’s Opinion


Gina Rendar, 46, vice president for a financial company in Boston, said visible tattoos, piercings and hair coloring are still discriminated against in the business world.

“My personal opinion is no matter who you are or what you do in the business world, you’ll have to adjust,” Rendar said. “It’s a white-collar lifestyle. You have to dress and act very professionally. It’s unfortunate, but visible tattoos, piercings and hair coloring are not considered professional in today’s corporate society.”

Rendar said corporate employers look for people who are clean-cut.  She said employers are not only looking for the most qualified person, but also the person who looks the part.

Rendar said if clothing covers a tattoo, it is a personal matter and shouldn’t have an impact on getting jobs.

“If we can’t see it, it’s your own business,” she said. “Piercings really are not a big deal either because they can be removed. When interviewing for a job, I would recommend that if you are dressing professionally you should take any facial piercings out.”


The Blue-Collar Employee’s Opinion

Brandon Brown, 21, sub contractor for the Housing Authority of Beaver County, Pa., said piercings and tattoos in manual labor fields are not a big deal.

Brown has his ears pierced and a tattoo of a camouflage Browning symbol on his shoulder.

“My job is to basically paint apartments, clean them and get them ready for rent,” Brown said. “It’s a very physical job so appearances aren’t as important. I wear jeans, boots and an old T-shirt to work. A lot of the guys aren’t clean cut, and they have multiple tattoos and piercings.”

Brown said his bosses do not mind tattoos and other body art because manual labor jobs do not involve office settings or dealing with customers.

“For construction workers, maintenance workers, plumbers and etcetera tattoos are more acceptable,” he said. “They aren’t suit and tie kind of jobs, and appearances are more casual.”

Brown said he is planning on getting more tattoos.  

Career Services’ Opinion


Salina DuBose, graduate assistant at Career Services, said the stigma against tattoos and other body art is a generational thing.

She said tattoos and piercings were once associated with gangs or rock stars, and the negative connotations stuck in the professional world.

“The ideals of professionalism were defined a very long time ago, and piercings, dyed hair and tattoos were not included in that category,” DuBose said. “Body art and expression is associated with being carefree, and that’s considered to be the opposite of professional.”

She said the discrimination against body art in the business realm will not change any time soon because it’s a formal environment.

“I think self expression is great, and if you want a tattoo then do it,” DuBose said. “But you have to be prepared for the time after college when you have to be an adult. Tattoos can limit what you wear to work because you have to cover them. You have to consider removing piercings and dying hair a natural color. This all signifies growing up, but until then, express who you are however you want.”

She said she does not believe there is a certain profession that will discriminate against people with tattoos, but she said it depends on the boss and interviewer.

“It really depends on the ages of your potential boss and interviewer,” DuBose said. “Younger people tend to be more tolerant of tattoos because they’re so popular right now. The fashion world changes all the time, so maybe in the future tattoos will be considered OK by professional standards. Right now, they aren’t.”

Students’ Opinions

Liz Siegel, junior art education major, said she works at a hotel, and guests might notice that she always has a bandage on her arm.

Siegel said she has four tattoos, and the blue sparrow on her wrist causes the most problems.

“My managers asked me to cover it, which was a challenge because it’s low on my wrist, and my clothes don’t cover it.”

Siegel said when she gets a job as an art teacher after college she will have to cover her tattoos. She said she thinks it is more difficult for people who have tattoos, piercings and unnatural-colored hair to get jobs.

“It’s harder because there’s still a stigma against tattoos,” she said. “They are becoming more popular so this could change, but almost every employer will make you cover them. People shouldn’t determine if you would be a good employee based on tattoos, but sometimes they do.”

She said students should think it over before getting a tattoo.

“If you’re going to become a lawyer you might have to be selective of where you get your tattoo, but you shouldn’t let your career path stop you from getting one if it’s what you want.”  


 Shelby McMillin, dining services employee, said she wouldn’t let her job choices affect her love of tattoos. 

“So far, my tattoos have only earned compliments from the people I work with and see at my job,” said McMillin, sophomore fashion merchandising major. “I have not been asked to cover them up.”

McMillin said her tattoos are big, and two of them cover her right forearm and inner bicep. She said a red rose covers her left elbow.


“People like them, so I’ve never had a problem, but I’m also not going to be a lawyer or an executive at a big business,” she said.

McMillin said tattoo acceptance depends on the type of job.

“If you’re a lawyer or CEO, tattoos are a bad idea, but if you’re a musician or artist and you don’t have body art that’s a little weird,” she said. “There’s a ‘look’ for every job. If you don’t look the part for what you want to do, you probably won’t make it in that field.”

McMillin also has a lip ring.

“No one cares that my lip is pierced at my job,” she said. “People like it. If it is a problem later on then I can always take it out. Body art is something I do for myself, to express who I am. Right now, I’m just having fun with it.”

A senior art history major said she was fired from her job because of her tattoos. She asked not to be named.

“I worked for dining services, and my bosses told me to cover my tattoos,” she said. “I can’t because I have full sleeves on both arms and tattoos on my hands.”

She said the tattoo that caused problems was part of her left sleeve that is a topless mermaid.

“My bosses said it was inappropriate, but I think it’s just art,” she said. “They told me to start covering all of them or to find a new job.”

She said she plans on being an artist after college.

“My tattoos are a part of my art. I won’t cover them up for a part-time job.”


Lindsey Teitelbaum, senior human development and family studies major, said she does not have any tattoos for religious reasons.

“I think that they are a personal preference, so I don’t mind when other people have them,” she said. “But because of my religious beliefs, I wouldn’t get one. I think they’re pretty and interesting, but not for me.”

Teitlebaum said in the Jewish religion, a person is supposed to be buried the way he or she is born.

“They’re also viewed negatively because in the Holocaust, victims were marked this way by the Nazis,” she said. “So for me, it’s mainly a religious choice.”

Teitelbaum said appearance is important when it comes to the work force, and that’s another reason she will not get one.

“Having tattoos might prevent me from getting a job over someone else or even considering me for a job,” she said. “Looking a certain way is highly valued in our society.”

Contact Maura Zurick at [email protected].