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When Is It OK To Show Your Tattoos If You're In Uniform?

In some industries, even a tattoo the size of a pea can cost you your job.

Tattoos are becoming increasingly common -- with one in five Aussies sporting ink on their bodies. When it comes to females, it's almost one in four.

Despite how prevalent body art is -- certain professions continue to have no-visible tattoo policies. And for some industries, the reigns are getting tighter.

This is particularly pertinent when a job requires a uniform -- be it law enforcement or with an airline.

"You have the right to discriminate with your employees when it comes to tattoos in the eyes of the law, but you cant based on sexuality, ethnicity, age etc," said Eduardo de la Fuente --  a sociologist at the University of Wollongong, with a study interest in tattoos.

"Popular culture is always ahead of occupational culture. I always say that anything that involves a uniform or a tie frowns on tattoos. There's a view that professional judgement or branding is hindered by appearance," he told ten daily.
Australian Border Force

The Australian Border Force is considering forcing staff with tattoos to cover up, even if they are working in extreme heat or in water.

"The ABF is currently reviewing feedback from staff on the proposed changes," a spokesperson told ten daily.

The ABF said the updated guidelines on tattoos, will be included in broader changes to their uniform and appearance policy to be released this month.

De la Fuente said this policy would be a step backwards. "It's definitely out of kilter and somewhat surprising."

Australian Federal Police

By comparison, under the Australian Federal Police's uniform and presentation guidelines, staff are allowed to have visible tattoos as long as they aren't deemed 'offensive'.

This excludes facial tattoos, which are only allowed if the owner can prove they have them for religious beliefs.

"The ABF proposal is at odds with Australian Federal Police so it would be interesting to see what happens next they would be expected to be on par, this is a regressive stance," de la Fuente said.
Navy, Army or Air force

The Australian Defence Force has a strict policy on tattoos and body piercing.

"Tattoos and/or brands are prohibited on the face of candidates wishing to enter the Navy, Army or Air Force. For Navy and Army candidates, the face includes the scalp, ears and neck."

Tattoos on the hands are also not allowed.

Melbourne tattoo removalist Tim Jarvis says he has clients who want to remove their ink to get a job.

"I've got a couple of clients at the moment, he's got a small tattoo on his hand that he is getting rid of and he wants to join the army," he told ten daily.

"I have another client, she is in the navy already and she's getting hers removed."

State Police Officers

"Police forces have always been at the pointy end of tattoo policies and it varies from state to state, and many in the industry see it as an infringement of their rights," de la Fuente said.

NSW Police are allowed tattoos on their arms, but not hands, face or neck. IMAGE: Getty Images.

Changes to NSW Police policy in 2013 banned officers from getting facial and neck tattoos as well as on their ears, scalp and hands.

Existing tattoos are accepted provided "the nature, location, prominence and appearance of existing body art is such that it would not bring the professionalism and/or image of NSWPF into disrepute."

In Victoria, the rules are not as clear:

"Subjective assessment will be made on place, style and type of tattoo that cannot be covered by a normal uniform. However having body art, piercings or modification does not necessarily preclude prospective employees from applying."

Flight Attendants

Tattoo removalist Geoff Ley has a majority female clientele. 

"I see  a lot of people who want to work for airlines like Emirates or Qantas," he told ten daily.

Emirates confirmed their in-flight staff cannot have visible tattoos and Qantas said all tattoos are to be covered.

"It is our policy that all tattoos are to be covered and not visible when a crew member is in uniform. This is a common requirement for airlines," a Qantas spokeswoman told ten daily.

In 2016, a 21-year-old applied for a job as a flight attendant with Qantas and Emirates, however she was turned down because of her ankle tattoo of a small anchor.

READ MORE: I Tried Laser Tattoo Removal ... And This Happened

“It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or prospective employee on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin,” a FairWork Ombudsman spokesperson said as the time.

But the Fair Work Act doesn't cover physical appearance discrimination.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman backed the airlines. They ruled it was fair game to discriminate here, " de la Fuente said.

Doctors and nurses

There are no industry-wide policies for nurses and doctors regarding tattoos.

A recent study published in the BMJ Emergency Medicine Journal found patients didn’t mind if their emergency doctors had piercings or tattoos.

READ MORE: Do Your Tattoos Stop You Sweating?

Contact the author at alattouf@networkten.com.au

Featured image: Getty Images