If you hire younger people (and you will probably have to sooner or later), you have to deal with tattoos. A decade ago you could usually ignore them because very few good candidates or employees had one, but they are increasingly found on very bright and motivated young people who would make effective employees. If you ban all tattoos, you will miss out on some top employees and put yourself at a competitive disadvantage.
So how do you handle tattoos in a way that work for your business? The good news is that most young people view tattoos as a means of expression, not rebellion, and many tattoos are inoffensive, even attractive. So the first thing you can do is to specify “no offensive tattoos” in your appearance policy. What is offensive will differ somewhat depending on your customers, but it is fair to ban those that will be offensive – usually those with violent, racist, sexist, or vulgar content. If you allow visible tattoos at all, this is an important policy.
A second possible requirement addresses the location of the tattoo. If your customer service standards require a clean and neat appearance, you can say “no facial tattoos” or “no tattoos above the neckline”, or you can specify that tattoos can’t interfere with the company uniform.
A broader policy would be “no visible tattoos”; if a tattoo can’t be seen, it really is no one’s business if it exists anyway. Some industries have dress standards that make it easy to be discreet; no one is surprised to see a lawyer in a long-sleeved shirt and they won’t assume that the sleeves hide tattoos. Where the dress standards are less conservative – say a gym, where t-shirts and shorts are the norm – an employee can still cover a lot of tattoo with things like elastic sleeves. It is less subtle, but it is increasingly common in industries with young employees and is a good compromise in family-friendly environments.
Most young adults understand that tattoos are not always greeted enthusiastically, and they will generally be willing to cover them up to a reasonable level. On the other hand, if there is a young company culture or customer base, letting employees show (appropriate) tattoos may be better than asking them to cover up.
The decision on how to handle tattoos will differ from business to business, depending on the customers, company culture, and available candidates, but it is a decision worth thinking through carefully in order to balance competitive advantages.