Tattoos at work: in what sectors can become a problem


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One in five Germans has at least one tattoo, and tattoos are especially common among young people.

However, there may be a problem in some jobs if you have visible tattoos – especially in the public sector and in conservative industries.

Attorney Urban Slamal explains what you should pay attention to and what your employer can tell you about your tattoo.

Only 20 years ago they were rarely visible, and today you see them everywhere: tattoos are becoming more and more popular. According to a representative survey of Ipsos commissioned by “Apotheken Umschau”, more than every five Germans have at least one tattoo. Body art is especially popular among the younger generation: almost every second is between 20 and 29 years old and every third from 30 to 39 years old has a tattoo. But what are the consequences for the labor market? What should people with tattoos watch out for – and what can employers tell them to do?

Attorney Urban Slamal specializes in tattoos. Represents many tattoo parlors and companies that manufacture and supply their supplies. Salamal is a regular lecturer on the legal aspects of tattoos and piercings. He himself is a tattooist and is a board member of the Bundesverband Tattoo eV

“In principle, you have the right to freely develop your personality – this is stipulated in Article 2 of the German Basic Law,” he says. This means that you can decide for yourself whether you want to get a tattoo, where and what. However, your employer can specify a certain dress code if you have a legitimate interest. And under certain conditions, they can also stipulate that your tattoo should not be visible.

“There is an important factor when it comes to on-the-job tattoos,” explains the attorney. “Specifically, whether you work in the private sector or in the public sector.” If you work for a private company, your boss can decide what to allow — and not allow — as long as he or she has an understandable interest in the public image of their employees. “Some employers also focus a lot on how the public perceives their companies, and for good reason. Especially in conservative industries, for example in finance or among lawyers, the traditional image of the job is often conveyed.” Great on company whether you accept the tattoo or not.

In public service, tattoos are more problematic. “Especially people who wear uniforms have to be careful here. Because their clothes have a neutral function, officials should represent the state or the state and not their individual personality,” Salamal says. Therefore, openly visible tattoos are often an obstacle to recruitment.

What should you think about during job interviews?

At the interview, the employer should find out if you are qualified for the job and if you are a good fit for the company. Questions about tattoos or invisible piercings have nothing to do with either of these – and they have no place in a job interview.

“If a company has a legitimate interest in their employees dropping a particular image, getting a tattoo on your hands or neck could become a problem,” Salamal says. This mainly affects jobs in conservative sectors that are open to the public. For example, if you are a graphic designer who works a lot on the computer, tattoos may not be a problem. But if you work for a law firm, your employer may not want you to have visible tattoos. You should be aware of this before applying for a job.

If you don’t yet know what industry you want to work in later, you should first get tattoos in invisible places, Salamal advises. “Anyone who has tattoos on their stomach, back or thighs is on the safe side at the moment.”

What can your employer stop you from doing?

Your employer is not allowed to ban tattoos – but you need to take into account the consequences if your tattoo does not match the company’s desired external perception. “If you are not sure if a planned tattoo is OK, I will check with my employer beforehand,” Salamal says. You don’t have to do this, but it can protect you from nasty surprises.

In individual cases, your boss can also order that clothing that covers tattoos be worn while at work. That could mean, for example, that you’ll have to wear long-sleeved clothes in the summer while your non-t-shirt-tattooed colleagues walk around.

For jobs in more conservative sectors, Salamal advises: Stick to the so-called T-shirt rule. If you can’t see the tattoo while you’re wearing a T-shirt, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Tattoos are still viewed critically, especially in jobs in the public sector

However, if you want to work in the public sector, you should think carefully in advance where you want to get a tattoo – and what is the motive. Tougher rules apply to employees representing the state than to those in other sectors. This applies, for example, to people working in offices, in court, in the police, in the armed forces or in public institutions. Officials should appear as impartial as possible.

For example, in 2014, the Federal Police rejected an applicant who had a large tattoo on her forearm. The reason: large, visible tattoos are not suitable for German police officers, who are often the “first representatives of the German state” when it comes to border control. The Administrative Court in Darmstadt ruled that the refusal was permissible.

If you want to be on the safe side, you should get a tattoo on a part of the body that is not usually seen at work, for example on the thigh, back or stomach. BUT: Meanwhile, tattoos are no longer strictly considered by the police. For example, the Berlin Police Academy accepts applicants with tattoos if they are “in compliance with the police service and the requirements for the appearance and impartiality of their officers in public places”. Here it is decided on a case-by-case basis whether tattoos are permissible.

However, it should be noted that the tattoos visible in this case should not have any religious or political meanings. A cross on your wrist, for example, can indicate that you are a Christian. And: “A tattoo of extreme left or right, sexist, degrading, inhuman or glorifying violence makes you ineligible for public service. Even if they are in places not visible in military uniform,” says Urban Salamal.

“The look of tattoos is changing”

Getting a tattoo is no longer a big deal. “Even being a tattooed lawyer, I’ve never had a bad experience before,” Salamal says. What matters more than an employee’s appearance is whether they are doing a good job. However, the young lawyer advises against placing large tattoos in obvious places.

“Please think carefully: where do you want to tattoo any idea? With which tattoo artist?” Salamal himself got his first tattoo when he was 39 years old. “So I thought about it enough.”

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