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Move follows five-month review into tattoo policy.

Following a number of controversies regarding the refusal of job roles due to visible tattoos, Air New Zealand have changed their tattoo policy. Undertaking research which found that one in five adults in the country have at least one tattoo, the policy which banned visible tattoos has been removed. Instead, from 1 September, employees are permitted to show any “non-offensive” tattoos regardless of their job role, with offensive tattoos being considered to cover hateful, lewd or violent content.

The review into the airline’s policy was, perhaps, long awaited due to the cultural significance of tattoos in New Zealand. Tattoos are an important part of Maori heritage, with facial and other tattoos traditionally worn to demonstrate heritage and cultural identity. Therefore, a ban on visible tattoos is likely to place those from a Maori background at a substantial disadvantage compared to others who do not have this cultural background.

Although in the UK there is lesser significance on tattoos for cultural heritage, there are individuals who have tattoos for reasons other than body art. Certain religions or ethnic backgrounds may require individuals to have tattoos in certain areas which, when combined with a workplace policy banning visible tattoos, may cause an issue. Therefore, applying such a tattoo policy can be indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of religion or belief, or race, unless employers can objectively justify the policy as a proportionate means of a legitimate aim.

Before imposing such a ban, organisations need to consider the business reason why visible tattoos cannot be on show. Where this is to ensure a certain business image is projected to customers or service users, it remains important to question whether the ban is a reasonable and necessary way of achieving this image; especially in a modern culture where tattoos are more accepted and tolerated.

Even in cases where tattoos are merely body art or worn because of the personal choice of the individual, more organisations are reviewing whether tattoo policies remain appropriate in modern culture where more job applicants or employees will have tattoos. Losing out on the best person for the role because they have a visible tattoo, whether or not this can be covered up, which is prohibited by a dress code or appearance policy may be a decision which ultimately ends up costing the organisation more in lost time and talent.

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