Are Tattoos Taboo In Hospitality?

Category : Human Resources
Date : December 6, 2016
Are Tattoos Taboo In Hospitality?

This is a topic you should definitely review with your HR director. Does a sentence appear in your hiring policy to specify whether or not a candidate is permitted to have any visible tattoos? Or, while unwritten, have you or someone within your organization ever dismissed potential applicants outright on this basis?

If you have answered affirmatively to either of these two statements, it may be time to re-evaluate your hiring practices. While discriminatory cases involving skin art have yet to reach the spotlight in our court systems, modifying an outright ban in your internal policies is nevertheless something to consider.

In the past two decades, the tattoo parlor has moved from a badge for military personnel, ex-cons and Hell’s Angels to mainstream, at least in a North American context. Increasingly, millennials – and soon to be post-millennials – regard tattoos as a rite of passage to adulthood. In our own consulting practice, we are seeing an growing number of younger candidates who sport visible tattoos, and rejecting on this grounds now puts a damper on the talent pool.

For the most part, these are small, innocuous add-ons that one has to look carefully to observe. They do not detract from their capabilities, nor are they seen as potential negatives in establishing customer relationships. Is the adornment of, say, a butterfly, a heart, or a few scripted letters precluding you from recruiting new, highly creative team members?

To the counterargument, an outright ban on tattoos is easy to enforce. After all, it’s binary – if you got ‘em, you’re out. But, say the rule is relaxed to state, “a small tattoo is acceptable so long as it is tastefully chosen and does not have any religious, derogatory or discriminatory elements.” While this is commendable, it is ambiguous. Who decides what is tasteful? And what about the location of the tattoo? A ladybug on an individual’s wrist may be acceptable, but how about the same artwork on someone’s eyelid?

This is also an issue when considering the candidate’s role within the organization. Are the rules for someone being hired as a restaurant server the same as an individual out of sight from guests as, say, a line chef? Before you answer, remember that the entry-level candidate you hire might prosper and, at some point in time, apply to be a part of your management team. Will that tattoo bother you if such a person is sitting at your executive committee boardroom table? Moreover, if you put a restriction on skin art at the senior level, will it act as a disincentive for ambitious, young, tattooed employees who may opt to apply for a position at a competitor with a more ‘accepting’ hiring policy?

Attitudes are changing and tattoos represent only one instance of how the workplace is evolving in the face of technology and other modern trends. For all of these, we must strive to be proactive if we are to attract the best possible talent. It is a balancing act, though. As a customer-facing industry, we must adjust the demands of our guests with that of our employees. For some hotels, traditionalism is what’s expected, and that can mean three-piece suits, old-fashioned décor and no visible tattoos or piercing. For other properties, it’s not even a blip on the radar. In either case, you must decide exactly what is permissible.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in Hotels Magazine on November 18, 2016)


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