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Does the Millennial know that tattoo might be a business  faux pas?

Monday, May 18, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

millennial tattooWe’ve written a lot about tattoos here and this writeup is going to be a little different from most of our posts. Rather than spending time on the research findings, we want to cite some of the more unusual and surprising findings the author reviews as a prelude to her results.

So, to be brief, the researcher found that Millennials are growing up and yes, they do know tattoos may be frowned upon in some parts of the business world. Further, many of them say that they will consider how able they will be to conceal a new tattoo in business attire as they approach the job market. That isn’t that surprising to us at all. What was surprising was some of the literature the author cited as she reviewed (oh the many) reasons someone should talk to Millennials and make sure they realize tattoos are permanent and may keep them from getting hired.

Here are just a few of the findings she cites in her review of the literature:

There is a Facebook page called “Tattoo Acceptance in the Workplace” which has over 2 million “likes”! (It seems to be more a place to show your art than to talk about the issues related to having tattoos in the workplace.)

A 2012 study showed that customers who have tattoos are more likely to trust salespeople who also have tattoos and that people associate more positive traits to salespeople with “feminine tattoos”.

Another survey completed in 2012 in a rural hospital showed patients did not view male health care professionals with tattoos positively. Caregivers with tattoos are seen as “unsanitary” or “dirty”. It is imagined that the judges of the tattoos are not, themselves, owners of tattoos. No ink-bonding there. Another 2010 health care setting survey resulted in concerns about infection control since tattoo cover ups could hamper good washing of the hands. We imagine that there is concern that some people who cover up tattoos don’t realize that they need to be uncovered for the sake of cleaning skin. An odd concern, we think.

Undergraduate accounting students in 2011 thought accounting professionals should not have visible tattoos (even though 26% of the survey participants had their own tattoos!). Further, those students had less confidence in the tattooed accountant and were less likely to recommend the services of a tattooed accountant.

A man in Pennsylvania sought employment as a “Liquor Enforcement Officer” in 2012 and was told in order to be hired he would have to remove his tattoos. He filed a lawsuit alleging multiple violations and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the lower court ruling (for the Defendant) saying “having a tattoo is not a fundamental right”.

Another ruling in 2006 involved lawsuit by several police officers who claimed their police chief did not have the authority to force employees to cover up tattoos because they were “offensive” or “unprofessional”. The court said that public employees may expect to have their first amendment rights more curtailed in order to “promote effective government”.

It is intriguing that self-expression tends to lose in court. Even more so, it is a testament to the power of the tattoo to divide even those with tattoos. Tattoos are going to be judged and they are almost always going to be judged negatively (even by those who also have tattoos)—so if you are a tattooed attorney or have a tattooed client, you may want to cover your own and have your client cover theirs as well while in court.

Foltz, KA (2015). The Millennial’s perception of tattoos: Self expression or business faux pas? College Student Journal

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