Tattoos are not for everyone and not for every workplace. Just as I am fond of piercings, I am fond of tattoos. But, similar to piercings, I am not fond of tattoos in a professional office environment such as the company I co-own. My fondness for tattoos probably stems from growing up in Southwest Florida, where there were many military veterans who sported tattoos, in green ink, mostly of military insignia. I have always enjoyed looking at tattoos and I often inquire about their meaning and origin. When I see a tattoo of a military insignia, such as the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor or the Navy’s Anchor, I am reminded of all the veterans I saw at the American Legion, Post 38, where my father served as Commander. My love of tattoos has earned me a few free drinks, due to my gazing being wrongly interpreted on more than one occasion. But, my love of tattoos does not mean I have any, nor does it mean I permit my employees to have tattoos that are visible when wearing business attire. I do not believe tattoos, body art, or whatever else they are called have any place in my office or in the presence of my clients. If it is possible, however, for tattooed employees to cover them with their clothing while they are at work, then it is their choice to do so or to work someplace else. Although tattoos are emerging as acceptable in some work environments, we have a long way to go before they are viewed in a positive light by high status professionals, including our clients. The permanent nature of tattoos is somewhat disconcerting because life for a young person with beautiful body art is very different from life for that same person as he/she ages into someone who desires a career that is more than “just a job” in an industry in which tattoos are not well regarded. Although tattoos can tell the story of someone’s life, sometimes it is a story best told via other means.
As with the piercing issue, we had the foresight to address tattoos in our earliest policy manual. Thus, we had the ability to address this issue with new hires, or prospective employees, from the beginning. And, as with several of these issues, it was not the case that we were “old farts” or “uncool” about fashions, but rather that we knew that, in our world, dealing with lawyers and their clients, we need to look more like them than not. This means wearing the “costume” of the business suit and tie, as well as not showing up with tatted sleeves (as at least 1 applicant displayed proudly) or even tattoos on necks, hands, legs (visible because of a dress or skirt being worn), or even the back of a neck. I know some of our clients have tattoos – some military, some as body art – but it risky for us to display such fashions because the majority of our clients do not do so. Because of our policy, from an early time we began asking about tattoos during initial telephone interviews. This later became something accomplished by email and the question was typically “Do you have tattoos that would be visible or exposed when wearing normal office attire?” As long as any tattoos could be covered and hidden, we can live with it. Or, so we thought. Then there was the guy we hired in the summer months who showed up to work each day wearing long sleeves as part of his business casual attire with the shadows of his tattoos showing through. He didn’t survive probationary period, but for reasons other than the tattoos which he dutifully kept hidden. And, the retired lady turned biker we hired, with the Harley logo emblazoned across the top of her back was the next one. We never knew until one day she wore a shirt that was low cut in the back – and there it was. And so it goes…we just want to get the job done, but sometimes that includes addressing such things as underwear, piercings, and tattoos. Individual expression is fine, but impressions matter.