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Visible Tattoos Gain More Acceptance

By: Margaret Hansen

Tattoos on the face, neck and hands are tough to cover up. Once considered a career-limiting move, the visible tattoo is losing its taboo status and outpacing HR policy.

In a recent JobsInVT.com poll, 65 percent of employers said they would not take action against an employee who obtained a visible tattoo.

Looking Beyond the Tattoo

While some dress codes outlaw visible tattoos at work, others allow them - if they are tasteful and not offensive to others. A manager's bias, a company's culture and the job itself all factor into the equation.

"I was raised under the old adage: you can't judge a book by its cover," says Steve Dodge, General Manager at Pinnacle Sales Accelerators in Shelburne, VT. "Some professions might prefer not to have a "sleeved" employee or one with multiple visible piercings, and I can understand that. But, chances are those employees wouldn't be interested in working there anyway."

Born and raised in Vermont, Dodge feels that his home state's business culture is far more accepting of differences than most of the other places that he's worked.

"It's more about viewing the individual. We are who we are. Don't let the wrapper influence you," says Dodge. "Is an employee or applicant less qualified or not as competent as someone who's not tattooed or pierced up? No way."

Tattoo Tolerant Organizations

Many large organizations, including Dell Computer, UCLA, and Wells Fargo, now allow employees to have visible, non-offensive tattoos. Tattooed folks can check the Modified Mind Employment Line website, a user-generated list of more than 400 employers and their tolerance levels of body modifications in the workplace.

Growing Trends

Here are some trends to keep in mind:

  • According to Harris Interactive, 45 million Americans have a tattoo
  • According to the Pew Research Center, one-third of those born between 1981 and 1988 (Gen Nexters) have at least one tattoo.
  • In 2006, the U.S. military revised its visible tattoo policy when realizing that their strict guidelines were limiting their recruiting pool. They now allow tattoos on the hands and neck - as long as they're not extremist, indecent, sexist or racist.

Changing Attitudes

"I expect there will be a sea change in attitudes toward tattoos in the next 25 years as tattooed and pierced peers begin running more companies," writes Dr. Ira S. Wolfe, a writer, speaker, consultant and author of the book, Geeks, Geezers and Googlization: How to Manage the Unprecedented Convergence of the Wired, the Tired, and Technology in the Workplace.

Wolfe notes that policies banning tattoos will soon become a thing of the past and is curious to see how the next generation will test their bosses.

"In my mind, there's no reason to look at the label - just open it," Dodge says.


Margaret Hansen has been writing professionally since receiving a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maine. She has worked for multiple organizations as a weekly newspaper reporter, a weekly newspaper editor, and in a variety of internal/external marketing communications roles. Her freelance career has focused on writing and editing for print, email and web publications in the employment industry, as well as manuscript editing and resume writing.