Visible Tattoos and Employment – can they stop you getting work?

The short answer (in case you’re rushing out to get a quick finger tattoo) is – Yes.

In most states of Australia visible tattoos are not covered by anti-discrimination or equal opportunity laws. That means that:

  • If you have visible tattoos an employee can choose not to offer you employment based on that reason
  • It’s lawful for a company to have a workplace policy on visible tattoos, and if you’re unable or unwilling to comply with that policy you can be denied employment.
  • If you’re employed at a company with an existing no visible tattoo policy and you subsequently breach that policy – either by uncovering a tattoo or getting a visible tattoo – you can be subject to disciplinary action and/or ultimately termination

The only possible exceptions to this bad state of affairs are:

  • If your place of employment introduces a no visible tattoo policy after your employment, that is deemed not ‘fair or reasonable’ (for example if many employees have had visible tattoos for several years and there’s been no issues) as was the case with Dapto Leagues
  • If you can genuinely argue that you have a visible tattoo AND it has to remain uncovered for religious, cultural or other reasons that are covered by anti-discrimination laws.
  • It’s possible that in Victoria you could argue your tattoo formed part of your ‘physical features’ and thus granted limited protection under anti-discrimination laws, however others argue that as a tattoo is ‘acquired’ it is therefore not included.

So employees can discriminate against visible tattoos – but do they?

Again – our quick summary for those on their way out the door for a neck tattoo – is quite often, yes.

More and more employees are publishing visible tattoo (and body piercing) work policies. At the bottom of this page we list some of the more prominent employees that do and we’ll add to that last over time. Organisations from the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Federal Police, most state and territory police departments, fire brigades, hospitals have policies in this area.

Having a visible tattoo may be an issue for particular workplaces and could affect your employment opportunities.

– Victorian State Government Better Health Channel


Refused Entry to Jupiters Casino for neck tattoo
Refused Entry to Jupiters Casino for neck tattoo

And that’s before you start to look in on private enterprises such as accountancy, legal or administrative jobs. Even in industries where you might reasonably expect self-expression to be encouraged, no visible tattoos policies are emerging. For example Jupiters Casino – along with some other venues in Queensland – have started refusing entry to patrons with visible tattoos (and one would assume therefore that the policy extends to staff)

And those are the companies with published policies. Remember, a HR manager or a prospective employee can reject a candidate on the basis of visible tattoos without it being discrimination. A study from 2012 released by Employment Office suggested that 60% of Australian’s considered visible tattoos unacceptable in the workplace and an even higher percentage agreed they should be covered up for a job interview.

Anti-discrimination laws could actually work against your visible tattoo.

So you have a teeny-tiny butterfly tattoo on your left ankle you got when you were 20. Most people probably wouldn’t put that in the same category as a face tattoo. But guess what? If an employee bans some types of visible tattoos but not others – even thought they really don’t care about your butterfly tattoo at all – then they could be opening themselves up to discrimination and thus simply implement a blanket no visible tattoo policy.

Likewise a poorly worded HR policy that sweeps up all visible tattoos in the one definition may mean an understanding boss or line manager may not have any discretion in overlooking your visible tattoos.

So what can you do?

If you’re thinking of getting a tattoo that could be visible, consider the following:

  • The closer it is to your torso the easier it will be to cover up now or in the future if necessary. A tattoo on your upper arm is covered by a short-sleeve and a long-sleeve shirt. A tattoo on your lower arm can only be covered by a long-sleeve top so you reduce your options. The same goes with the legs.
  • Think about your comfort factor and the practicalities of covering tattoos at your extremities. Yes you ‘could’ wear gloves to work every day but would you really want to? Are long-sleeve shirts working outdoors in the heat going to be comfortable when everyone else is getting around in short-sleeves?
Miss Tumilty with Visible Tattoos
What Miss Tumilty would like to wear
Is that how you want to dress everyday?
What she had to wear.
  • In the UK last year a trainee teacher was sent home for having visible tattoos and piercings which were not deemed appropriate for a Catholic School. To return to the classroom she had to cover up her visible tattoos. Have a look at the outfit on the right she had to wear to comply, and ask yourself, do you want to wear that outfit in the middle of an Australian summer? And to add insult to injury you can still see a visible neck tattoo if you look closely!

If you already have a visible tattoo (or two) and are going for an interview, consider the following:

  • Cover up your tattoos for that first job interview. It’s not a denial of your right to self-expression, it’s just a smart insurance policy ‘in case’ the interviewer isn’t a fan of body art.
  • If the job interview has gone well you could
    • Verbally enquire about the companies policy on visible tattoos
    • Wait until an employment contract is offered and check their written policies (if any) and then decide whether it will be a potential issue
    • Tell the interviewer you have some tattoos which are covered, and would you be expected to cover them if you were employed.

Remember, if you wow them in the interview and THEN tell them about your tattoos they’re more likely to try and accommodate the issue (assuming it’s even an issue at all) than if the first thing they see are your tattoos before you’ve had a change to dazzle them

And of course, if you go into the interview room and your prospective employee is sporting a neck tattoo, well then rip off your shirt, jump up on the table and start playing the air guitar – you’re in!

If you have visible tattoos and your employee introduces a no visible tattoo policy

Discuss the matter openly, and early with your boss, line manager or HR department. In most cases a professional company will consult their employees and give adequate warning of any changes. Proactively voicing any concerns you may have or any potential issues you may face in complying, can go a long way in helping formulate the final policy.


Some Employees with Visible Tattoo Policies

Australian Army – Tattoos prohibited on the face, scalp, ears, neck and hands

Australian Air Force – Tattoos prohibited on the face only

Australian Navy – Tattoos prohibited on the face, scalp ears and neck

Australian Federal Police – Tattoos prohibited on the face and ‘common-sense should prevail’ for tattoos on other parts of the body

NSW Police Force – Neck and Facial Tattoos prohibited and arm tattoos to be covered up on formal occasions

WA Police Force – Proposed policy to ban neck, hand and face tattoos and other tattoos to be covered up when attending formal police events

QLD Police Service – Visible tattoos to be covered up, including long-sleeve shirts to cover arm tattoos

Victoria Police – ‘Subjective assessment will be made on place style and type of tattoo that cannot be covered by a normal uniform’

SA Metropolitan Fire Service – Visible tattoos must not be excessive or offensive…a full sleeve tattoo is potentially offensive

Tasmanian Dept of Health and Human Services – Tattoos of an offensive nature must be covered, if feedback is received that body art is offensive discussions must occur to resolve the issue

Queensland Department of Education – No policy, Queensland Teachers Union believes that if a teachers tattoo is inappropriate for their workplace it should be covered and not be visible.