Roses and teardrops: the trouble with tattoos

It is legal – and common – for British employers to ban tattoos.

Tattoos have become a normal part of life. Celebrities, news presenters, and even Barbie dolls all have them. So why do some people think you should hide your body art to get a good job?

What’s happening

An important government organisation in the UK has warned that businesses are missing out on talented young employees. Why? Because they they have visible tattoos, and bosses worry that customers will not trust them. As almost one in three young people have body art, this could be a major problem.

Find out more

Throughout history, tattoos have meant different things to different cultures. Buddhist monks have a tradition of inking geometric patterns on their backs to bring good luck. After the American Revolution, sailors wore them to avoid service in the British navy. In Japan today, they are linked to gangs and organised crime.

Other cultures have an even longer history of tattoos: islanders in the South Pacific had been inking their skin for millennia by the time Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century. The travellers eventually brought the custom home with them, and it soon began to spread.

Now, they have become fairly normal. And yet it is still perfectly legal for employers to ban them from the workplace. Is this fair?

Some say…

Old habits die hard. To many people, tattoos are ugly and intimidating — this could put others off, especially in important places like hospitals or law firms, where workers need to be trusted. If bosses think that having tattoos will hurt business, they should be allowed to ban them. Most workplaces have dress codes, so tattoos are no different.

Others think…

Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. There is nothing wrong with tattoos. In fact, some people now think they are a sign of confidence and creativity, even as an art form in their own right. Employers should set an example by permitting them, or they will soon fall behind the times – and lose out on talent in the process.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to get a tattoo one day?


  1. Design a tattoo and explain its meaning to the person next to you.

Some People Say...

“People should wear whatever they want at work.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

A religion which began in India hundreds of years ago and spread through Asia.
American Revolution
A war fought 1765–83 as Americans rejected British rule.
South Pacific
Including islands like Tahiti, Hawaii and Samoa.
Thousands of years.
Eighteenth century
Captain James Cook brought the word ‘tattoo’ back from his voyages in 1769.
Dress codes
Uniforms, or guidelines like ‘wear a tie’ (or ‘High Heels’ in the Explorer archive).

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