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New research reveals negative attitudes towards tattoos could result in bosses missing out on talented young workers

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Workplace experts Acas have published new research on dress codes which shows that employers risk losing talented young employees due to concerns about employing people with visible tattoos.

The new independent study on various aspects of employee appearance found that young people are especially affected as almost one in three young people have a tattoo. Other findings revealed that:

  • Negative attitudes towards tattoos and piercing from managers and employees can influence the outcome of recruitment exercises within some workplaces;
  • Some public sector workers felt that people would not have confidence in the professionalism of a person with a visible tattoo; and
  • Some private sector employers, from law firms to removal companies, all raised concerns about visible tattoos in relation to perceived negative attitudes of potential clients or customers.

Acas Head of Equality, Stephen Williams, said:

"Businesses are perfectly within their right to have rules around appearance at work but these rules should be based on the law where appropriate, and the needs of the business, not managers' personal preferences.

"We know that employers with a diverse workforce can reap many business benefits as they can tap into the knowledge and skills of staff from a wide range of backgrounds.

"Almost a third of young people now have tattoos so, whilst it remains a legitimate business decision, a dress code that restricts people with tattoos might mean companies are missing out on talented workers.

"We have updated our dress code guidance today, which also includes advice for employers to help ensure they don't fall on the wrong side of the law with their dress codes."

Acas has updated its dress code guidance in light of the research and latest developments:

  • Following the recent case of a temporary worker who was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels at work, Acas' revised advice is clear that any dress code should not be stricter, or lead to a detriment, for one gender over the other;
  • An employer's dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation;
  • Employers may adopt a more casual approach to dress during the summer, but this may depend on the type of business; and
  • It is good practice when drafting or updating a dress code for an employer to consider the reasoning behind it. Consulting with employees over any proposed dress code may ensure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and employees.

Acas' full dress code guidance and the new research paper, 'Dress codes and appearances at work', can be found at

Notes to editors

1. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. We support good relationships between employers and employees which underpin business success. We also provide good value, high quality training and tailored advice to employers. Our expertise is based on millions of contacts with employers and employees each year. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law. 

2. More information about Acas dress code guidance and the research, Dress codes and appearances at work, can be found at can be found at

3. The independent research was carried out by academics from Kings* College, London, and is based on a literature review, an analysis of relevant legal cases and 33 semi-structured, purposefully sampled, qualitative interviews with key stakeholders who devise and implement dress codes and appearance standards, as well as employees and other stakeholders subject to, or with a specialist interest in the area of workplace dress codes and appearance.

4. The website Ask Jeeves carried out a survey on tattoos and found that 29% of young people (16-44 years old) now had tattoos.

5. For media enquiries or to receive a strictly embargoed copy of the research, please contact Steven Mather at the Acas press office on 020 7210 3749 or For out of hours media enquiries please call the out of hours duty press officer on 020 7210 3600.