Tattoos in the Workplace: How Appearance Policies Affect Healthcare Jobs

March 18, 2015

Tattooing process




No Crop Photo / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA




Have you ever been denied a position or a promotion just because of the ink on your skin? Maybe it was due to an official policy against tattoos in the workplace or perhaps it was someone's personal views on your appearance.

In the medical field, most employee handbooks have a section regarding tattoos and piercings. In rare cases, hospital jobs are only available to people with no body ink. In general, however, most medical facilities apply minor restrictions that only prohibit excessive and/or offensive tattoos.

While tattoos are becoming more widely accepted, it's also true that not every employer welcomes their presence. The healthcare field is far more liberal in that regard, at least compared to corporate America. Yet prejudices still exist and the law is undoubtedly on the side of the employer.

Tattoo Discrimination and Civil Rights



Tattoo meme



Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA




The percentage of tattooed adults in the US is 42% and rising. Considering they're a form of personal expression which should technically be protected by the First Amendment, proponents of tattoos find it odd that they’re not federally protected in the workplace.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer can establish a dress code and appearance policies as long as they don’t discriminate against a person on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.

You may be denied a healthcare job opportunity if the employer believes your tattoo violates their internal appearance policies. Yet, a large portion of hospital personnel have ink, which indicates that appearance rules are usually flexible.

Statistics about tattoos in the workplace revealed:


  • 76% of employees feel tattoos and piercings hurt job interview chances

  • 73% of people say they would hire staff that had visible tattoos

  • 6% of tattooed people say they wouldn't hire someone with visible ink

  • Only 4% of tattooed or pierced people say they've actually faced discrimination at their current job


As the popularity of tattoos increases, most organizations are responding by implementing flexible policies and less restrictions regarding tattooed individuals. Furthermore, healthcare professionals don’t face as much scrutiny regarding their appearance compared to members of the corporate world.

Healthcare Job Opportunities for Tattooed People


There is currently no nationally accepted policy concerning tattoos and piercings in the workplace. This being said, formal restrictions and unwritten rules vary greatly from hospital to hospital. Most medical institutions are okay with a little bit of visible body ink, as long as it’s not offensive.

Could Tattoos Hinder Your Professional Progress



Alex E. Proimos / Flickr / CC BY-NC




Non-visible tattoos are almost always allowed. If your tattoo is not exposed, or it could easily be covered, you’ll rarely have problems with the upper management, even if they know about it. Full sleeves and other excessive tattoos that are visible are not always accepted, but are sometimes tolerated.

Facial tattoos, along with offensive tattoos that are visible, are often prohibited, even if the hospital has no official policy regarding the subject. After all, protecting the professional image of the organization comes first. Chances are, such cases will be viewed in a very negative light due to social stigma.

In conclusion, unless you go overboard with the ink on your skin, you’ll likely find a healthcare job that lets you enjoy some freedom of expression.

Could Tattoos Hinder Your Professional Progress?


While it may be true that tattoos can limit your job options, their effect on your career doesn't really manifest itself until you start climbing the professional ladder. People working in different areas of the healthcare field experience varying levels of concern.

Doctors, nurses, and people in healthcare administration and management report that they are less likely to get a visible tattoo and are more likely to cover their existing ones. A number of hospital workers even say visible ink can hurt your professional growth.

"I've worked in three hospitals and many doctors' offices and all of them have a policy on no visible tattoos or piercings. You can do what you want but you are going to severely limit your job options, especially if you want to go into management."

Another hospital employee adds:
"I personally have 6, none visible in work clothes. No one is saying you can't have tats or piercings, just none that are visible, mainly hands and neck. And if you're management, not only are you supposed to follow policy, but you also have to enforce it."


Nurse With Tattoos


Tattooed Nurse

Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA




Some medical professionals fear employers and patients may not understand their tattoos, or may even associate them with a ‘wrong element’ in society. The two major reasons why doctors, nurses, and people from management may restrain from excessive or visible tattoos are:

  • the belief that body ink is not professional

  • the negative stigma of being associated with criminal activity


Of course, if you’re not interested in pursuing a medical degree, but instead want to opt for a professional healthcare certificate, you may have less to worry about. An MRI technician, for example, can get away with a bit more ink than a physician or a surgeon.

This doesn't mean that hospital policies apply only to people with higher education; it simply means you’ll probably face less judgment and biases from upper management, colleagues, and patients. The higher your position, the more you're expected to fit the social image your job comes with.

The Bottom Line: Put Your Career First


Fewer and fewer people see tattoos as taboo or an uneducated practice. Hospital rules and people’s views are gradually changing. Still, not every institution is in a rush to change their stance, especially when its reputation as a professional organization is at stake.

If a workplace has an official policy of no visible tattoos, then it’s completely logical that they won’t give you a job if you have hand/neck tattoos. So familiarize yourself with the rules of the hospitals you want to work at ahead of time.

When choosing a tattoo, consider the size and placement carefully.Take into account the professional image you’re trying to portray to your future (or current) employers and patients.

Ultimately, you decide how to live your life. Working in the medical field with tattoos is no trouble as long as you're mindful of requirements and expectations.

Looking for a job in the healthcare field? Take a look at the top allied healthcare careers available in the New Jersey area.