Employers can reject job applicants due to their tattoos as such applicants have no legal protection. They cannot claim discrimination as the Equality Act 2010 specifically excluded tattoos and piercings from the definition of a severe disfigurement, on which basis an employer cannot discriminate. It could be argued, however, that a policy of not employing people with tattoos is indirect age discrimination, given that younger workers are more likely to have tattoos rather than older workers. This would, however, be an expensive and difficult case to pursue.
Problems for employers are more likely to arise on dismissal. Once an employee has more than two years’ service, then they have unfair dismissal rights.
In some cases employees might have started employment without a tattoo but decided to get one (or more) some years later. Whilst employers with dress code policies will usually state that employees in certain roles, usually customer facing ones, will be asked to cover up any visible tattoo, an employment tribunal may decide that any display of a tattoo is not a fair reason for dismissal.
In spite of these employment rights, tribunal fees and the time, cost and risk of a claim without funding is not such an attractive option for someone who is rejected or dismissed due to their tattoo. Instead, online petitions, lobbying MPs and endless newspaper articles seem to be a far more effective way of persuading employers to reconsider their strict ‘no tattoo’ policies than pursuing a case in the tribunal.
They can certainly impact how you’re perceived and it’s worth noting they you’re not protected in your job if you have tattoos, because they’re not a legally protected category – meaning there’s no such thing as discrimination against tattoos.’