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Tattoos in the Workplace: How Appearance Policies Affect Healthcare Jobs

Tattooing process

No Crop Photo / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA

Have you ever been denied a position or a promotion just because of the ink on your skin? Maybe it was due to an official policy against tattoos in the workplace or perhaps it was someone’s personal views on your appearance.

In the medical field, most employee handbooks have a section regarding tattoos and piercings. In rare cases, hospital jobs are only available to people with no body ink. In general, however, most medical facilities apply minor restrictions that only prohibit excessive and/or offensive tattoos.

While tattoos are becoming more widely accepted, it’s also true that not every employer welcomes their presence. The healthcare field is far more liberal in that regard, at least compared to corporate America. Yet prejudices still exist and the law is undoubtedly on the side of the employer.

Tattoo Discrimination and Civil Rights

Tattoo meme

Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA

The percentage of tattooed adults in the US is 42% and rising. Considering they’re a form of personal expression which should technically be protected by the First Amendment, proponents of tattoos find it odd that they’re not federally protected in the workplace.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer can establish a dress code and appearance policies as long as they don’t discriminate against a person on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.

You may be denied a healthcare job opportunity if the employer believes your tattoo violates their internal appearance policies. Yet, a large portion of hospital personnel have ink, which indicates that appearance rules are usually flexible.

Statistics about tattoos in the workplace revealed:

  • 76% of employees feel tattoos and piercings hurt job interview chances
  • 73% of people say they would hire staff that had visible tattoos
  • 6% of tattooed people say they wouldn’t hire someone with visible ink
  • Only 4% of tattooed or pierced people say they’ve actually faced discrimination at their current job

As the popularity of tattoos increases, most organizations are responding by implementing flexible policies and less restrictions regarding tattooed individuals. Furthermore, healthcare professionals don’t face as much scrutiny regarding their appearance compared to members of the corporate world.

Healthcare Job Opportunities for Tattooed People

There is currently no nationally accepted policy concerning tattoos and piercings in the workplace. This being said, formal restrictions and unwritten rules vary greatly from hospital to hospital. Most medical institutions are okay with a little bit of visible body ink, as long as it’s not offensive.

Could Tattoos Hinder Your Professional Progress

Alex E. Proimos / Flickr / CC BY-NC

Non-visible tattoos are almost always allowed. If your tattoo is not exposed, or it could easily be covered, you’ll rarely have problems with the upper management, even if they know about it. Full sleeves and other excessive tattoos that are visible are not always accepted, but are sometimes tolerated.

Facial tattoos, along with offensive tattoos that are visible, are often prohibited, even if the hospital has no official policy regarding the subject. After all, protecting the professional image of the organization comes first. Chances are, such cases will be viewed in a very negative light due to social stigma.

In conclusion, unless you go overboard with the ink on your skin, you’ll likely find a healthcare job that lets you enjoy some freedom of expression.

Could Tattoos Hinder Your Professional Progress?

While it may be true that tattoos can limit your job options, their effect on your career doesn’t really manifest itself until you start climbing the professional ladder. People working in different areas of the healthcare field experience varying levels of concern.

Doctors, nurses, and people in healthcare administration and management report that they are less likely to get a visible tattoo and are more likely to cover their existing ones. A number of hospital workers even say visible ink can hurt your professional growth.

“I’ve worked in three hospitals and many doctors’ offices and all of them have a policy on no visible tattoos or piercings. You can do what you want but you are going to severely limit your job options, especially if you want to go into management.”

Another hospital employee adds:

“I personally have 6, none visible in work clothes. No one is saying you can’t have tats or piercings, just none that are visible, mainly hands and neck. And if you’re management, not only are you supposed to follow policy, but you also have to enforce it.”

Nurse With Tattoos

Tattooed Nurse
Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA

Some medical professionals fear employers and patients may not understand their tattoos, or may even associate them with a ‘wrong element’ in society. The two major reasons why doctors, nurses, and people from management may restrain from excessive or visible tattoos are:

  • the belief that body ink is not professional
  • the negative stigma of being associated with criminal activity

Of course, if you’re not interested in pursuing a medical degree, but instead want to opt for a professional healthcare certificate, you may have less to worry about. An MRI technician, for example, can get away with a bit more ink than a physician or a surgeon.

This doesn’t mean that hospital policies apply only to people with higher education; it simply means you’ll probably face less judgment and biases from upper management, colleagues, and patients. The higher your position, the more you’re expected to fit the social image your job comes with.

The Bottom Line: Put Your Career First

Fewer and fewer people see tattoos as taboo or an uneducated practice. Hospital rules and people’s views are gradually changing. Still, not every institution is in a rush to change their stance, especially when its reputation as a professional organization is at stake.

If a workplace has an official policy of no visible tattoos, then it’s completely logical that they won’t give you a job if you have hand/neck tattoos. So familiarize yourself with the rules of the hospitals you want to work at ahead of time.

When choosing a tattoo, consider the size and placement carefully.Take into account the professional image you’re trying to portray to your future (or current) employers and patients.

Ultimately, you decide how to live your life. Working in the medical field with tattoos is no trouble as long as you’re mindful of requirements and expectations.

Looking for a job in the healthcare field? Take a look at the top allied healthcare careers available in the New Jersey area.

10 thoughts on “Tattoos in the Workplace: How Appearance Policies Affect Healthcare Jobs

  • Lauren says:

    Thank you for sharing this information on working in the healthcare field with tattoos. Like you said, when choosing a tattoo, you should consider the size and placement very carefully.

  • […] are common forms of self-expression in our society, but may not be acceptable where you work. Workplace restrictions can vary, but if you’re thinking about a new tattoo, it may make sense to place it under your work […]

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    […] Tattoos In the Workplace […]

  • Joe B. says:

    I don’t know how I stumbled on this article, but it’s spot on! In fact, just the other day I was seen by a practioner with a tattoo on her wrist. It was sort of covered by a watch, but I knew it was there… a-total-non-issue.

    Hospital / clinic policies need to worry more about providers that become arrogant, omnipotent jerks and not worry about harmless self-expression.

  • Paul Ogden says:

    the only point I want to make regarding this, as many of those I know are the nicest people and all tated up. anyway, medicine by nature is quite conservative in nature. there is a general stigma with people and tattoos, and that is biker gangs such as the hells angels, drugs, alcohol, and wife beaters. these are no doubt, for the most part, stereotypes, but we live in a society full of shit on TV and we have to a large degree, become numb to this garbage and violence, and so on. Take that and couple it with our media. God forbid they ever report anything worth while in the world; all the report on anymore is who shot who, and what group did this and that. being an advanced practice nurse, I do understand both sides of the argument; however, getting past all the garbage we see, patients are most vulnerable when they come see us in the hospital and other places. They want to feel secure in such a down time for him/her.

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  • Kourada says:

    Tattoos are for people that want attention. Millennial narcissists. They are hideous especially on women.

    • skylar says:

      tattoos are a beautiful form of art and self expression. it is not for attention it is for self fulfillment and expression as stated above. there is no need to insult people over artwork and expression. it’s sexist that you say especially on women and rude that you say it’s for attention. say you mother or father died and you put art on your body in memory of them. that is not for attention. that is for reverence as you put permanent memory of them on you right physical body just as they have permant memory in your mind.

  • Janice Cattanach says:

    I’m so glad that society is changing. I’m a P.Ink medical tattooist (think areolas/designs as part of the reconstruction process after mastectomy). I also do vitiligo & cleft lip camouflage. Being an artist and an RN, I chose a half sleeve tattoo myself, because I love art. Yay for those who do not judge a book by its cover! I love being a nurse!

  • Darryl Johnston says:

    True! Let’s stop discriminating against people who have tattoos thinking they are irresponsible and a rebel. These policies must be implemented in all workplaces who underqualified employees that have tattoos.

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