The Metropolitan Police recently banned all visible tattoos because they "don't present a professional image". Can you do the same thing?
It's perfectly legal to ban your employees from having visible tattoos (or insist they're covered up) on the basis that a professional image must be projected at all times. Set out your rules in a dress and appearance policy.
Cover-up job. Apparently, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, has banned all officers and staff from having any visible tattoos, e.g. on their arms, hands, neck or face, even though certain types of body art are quite fashionable these days. Although the Police Federation has openly criticised the Commissioner for being "far too heavy-handed" and "not keeping up with modern life", he says that this decision is justified because tattoos that can be seen by the public "damage the Met's professional image". You might agree with this point, but can you adopt a similar rule?
The easy answer. In a nutshell, yes you can. In fact, providing a restriction can be objectively justified, the law affords you a considerable amount of flexibility when it comes to setting out your rules on staff dress and appearance during working hours. The most solid business reason here is that a minimum standard of appearance is necessary to ensure that "all staff project a professional image to customers, clients, suppliers and other business contacts at all times".
Tip 1. The easiest way of introducing (or reinforcing) appearance standards is via a written policy (see The next step). It should set out your reasons for introducing any restrictions on visible tattoos, make any breach a disciplinary offence and be applied equally to all staff.
Tip 2. If anyone argues that this rule is discriminatory, or that it breaches their human rights, don't panic. The Equality Act 2010 doesn't protect individuals who have non-medical tattoos, so that one's a non-starter. Also, the tribunal will put the employer's right to portray a professional image above an individual's right to freedom of expression. However, do always check that there is no underlying religious or ethnic reason for a visible tattoo. It's unlikely, but not impossible.