Can an employer in England legally terminate someone's employment for having tattoos? | Lawhive - Solicitors & Lawyers Online
Can an employer in England legally terminate someone's employment for having tattoos?
England. I interviewed for a job back in November. I wore a long sleeved shirt, so my tattoos weren't visible. I got the job, but then Covid-19 happened so my start date was delayed until Monday (1st June). It was warm so I wore a smart short sleeved blouse. I met with my supervisor, and he disappeared while he set me off on reading generic health and safety policies. He returned a short time later with the director of HR, and they pulled me into a meeting room where it was explained to me that unfortunately they will have to terminate my employment, since they did not realise I have tattoos. I tried to explain my case but these were two quite hench men and I am a very small woman so I felt powerless and I left. I had saved the job description, and I have all the information and orientation packs the company sent me while we were in lockdown. There is NOTHING about tattoos - not even in the uniform policy. They also did not mention tattoos or ask if I have tattoos in the interview. Surely they would ask about something that is apparently a fireable offence? The tattoos are not extensive and aren't on my hands, neck, or face (they're on one arm only, from my shoulder down to mid-forearm). They're not offensive (they're plants, creepy-crawlies, snakes and fish). They're not brightly coloured, just black linework. This isn't a particularly customer-facing role. It's not corporate, either. It's a position to be a geotechnical engineer. Was I rightfully let go? Is there any legal recourse here? EDIT: To add, I was specifically headhunted for this role, since it is quite a niche skill that they need. My tattoos reflect my area of scientific research (and what they would be employing me to do) - palaeontology.

Ernest Garry

1st September 2021



Top Answer
I don't believe most tattoos are a protected characteristic and you've been there less than two years so there's not a lot you can do. You should still get paid you're notice period though.

Donna Phillips

11th January 2022



Weird situation.. I have tattoos mainly on both of my arms and on every interview I ask what's their tattoo policy; if there is one just to cover all bases. I work in IT so it's not a deal-breaker most of the times. I've been told to cover up if I can when I was working at a school.

Greg Pai

11th January 2022



You see police officers wearing big tattoos nowadays. So unless they were offensive in any way the employer probably just wanted to cut numbers unfortunately. Take them for the notice period though!

Brian Leclerc

11th January 2022



You should at the very least file a formal complaint.

Laura Wood

11th January 2022



If you where head hunted via an agency, I would definitely tell them about the tattoo thing. Because if the client is placing additional restrictions that they don’t know about, it could make their job practically impossible.

Cleo Armenta

11th January 2022



It's a long shot, but while you were there did you notice any men with tattoos? Some people have different attitudes toward tattoos worn by men rather than women, so if you could show that you were treated differently to male colleagues you could perhaps have grounds for a claim notwithstanding the 2-year rule. This might also be relevant if your tattoos cover an area (such as your upper arm) which is more likely to be covered by clothing on a man (although it sounds like that isn't the case). Either way, other factors such as the size and prominence of tattoos on different people might also come into play, so as I said it's a long shot. Either way, I'd put in a complaint to the company, because in 2020 this is fucking bullshit and someone needs to call them out on it. It probably won't get you anywhere, but you never know - maybe these two employees were acting against company policy in firing you for this reason.

Maria Pellicone

11th January 2022



Have you considered reaching out to their corporate office or upper management about this? If someone has gone to the trouble of headhunting you I can't imagine that person, unless already involved, is happy with your dismissal over something like tattoos. It'd make sense if they just wanted to cut costs, but there wouldn't be a problem with them just saying that given length of employment (or complete lack thereof). Don't get me wrong, 3 month's notice pay is great in the situation you're in... but if you'd rather have the job then there is a chance this could just be the result of a couple of bad apples. Then again I can see why you'd rather not work there regardless.

Betty Hart

11th January 2022



This sounds very weird indeed. Given that you're highly specialised is there any chance they poached you with no intention of keeping you on, specifically to deprive your former employer of you? Might be worth checking out Glassdoor to see if anyone else has had similar experiences. In addition to all the points others have covered about sorting notice pay, I'd reach out to the people who interviewed you to make sure that the people responsible for headhunting you are aware. Try to gauge if they were shocked or annoyed or whatever. Then complain to HR, maybe try to escalate a complaint about the policy generally as high as you can within the company. Definitely complain to whatever agency expedited the headhunting - point out that it reduces trust in the agency as well when this kind of thing happens.

Douglas New

11th January 2022



Technically what they did was legal, you are allowed to not hire/fire someone because of tattoos. It’s also not a legal requirement to have this in a contract or dress code. As the others specified you’re entitled to pay for your notice period. So your first course of action would be to make them aware of this and also explain that you would be happy to work this notice period (this may change their mind about letting you go if they witness your work) I’d also recommend maybe adding in that had you been aware of their stance on tattoos you would have disclosed this earlier and that you had left previous employment and is something they should make potential candidates aware of and put it in their employee handbook for better transparency and so company time and candidate time isn’t wasted. In this day and age I think it’s absolutely ridiculous people can do this, if it’s not written anywhere I don’t think they should be allowed to just dismiss you. Even though it’s not a protected characteristic, changing employment terms should be protected.

Marilyn Tomlinson

11th January 2022