Tough on Tattoos: Like it or not, body modifications can reduce your chances of getting hired


Tough on Tattoos: Like it or not, body modifications can reduce your chances of getting hired

By Scott Cook

This month I’m going to talk about body modification: tattoos and piercings.

Now I know some of us believe that body modifications are really a personal choice, and they’re often done as a remembrance or celebration of someone important in our lives—and that’s all well and good. Tattoos and piercings are your business. You like them? Don’t like them? I don’t care; it makes no difference to me one way or the other. This is America, and you have the right to do anything you want with your body.

What gets me is that some firefighters with outlandish ink visible even with clothes on, or gauges in their ears as big around as toilet paper rolls, think that since they have the right to do that to themselves, others have ZERO right to think negatively of them for doing it. Big mistake.

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What image do your body modifications present? Photo iStock.com

As I said, I couldn’t give a rip one way or the other. But your current or future employer will, and that’s a fact. When you’re in the City of Gadzook’s uniform, you represent that city, not yourself, as you would prefer to believe. I know a lot of firefighters who think, “It shouldn’t matter that I’ve marked myself for all to see. What matters is whether I can do the job proficiently and safely.”

To an extent, that’s very true. But when you walk up to Mrs. Jones, who’s having the worst day of her life, the last thing you want to do is make her feel uncomfortable. And before you say a word, or she sees that big shiny fire department badge on your uniform, she sees the tattooed arm, neck or face. Is that going to instill confidence in Mrs. Jones?

And let’s not forget about your prospective employer. Let’s say they have the choice between two prime candidates with equal skills and abilities to represent the city. One of the two doesn’t have any body modifications, while the other has a large, “visible while in uniform” tattoo. Who do you think gets hired?
Maybe it shouldn’t matter. But it does.

I’ll relate a true story from outside the fire service. A very nice young lady applied for a job. She’s smart and quite capable. She’s been hanging around the worksite as a student for several months. One day she wears a shirt that’s not tucked in. The folks that she’ll be working with see the ink on her back. Instantly, their opinion of her changes—not about her abilities as a worker, because they know she’s a good worker. But they begin to have doubts about her character, and how she will represent the company when she’s outside the workplace. In the end, she doesn’t get the job.

It shouldn’t matter … but it does.

Scott Cook is the former chief of the Granbury (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department and a fire service instructor. He’s also a member of FireRescue’s editorial board.

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Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 3, 2010 at 1:45pm
And why bother to shave every day, why not every couple of days, if a person thinks the 'scruffy' look is a matter of expression? They can still do the job, right?
Jack; actually, the OSHA standard on the wearing of respirators-i.e. SCBAs specifies that even a "day's growth" can compromise the seal of the mask, so no; you could not safely do the job in this case.
You know; for the sake of argument.
Art
Comment by Jack/dt on January 3, 2010 at 11:15am
So long as tattoos are covered (per departmental regulations) it's really a non-issue.
But while we're on it, if a person chooses not to wash their laundry or to shower regularly what's the big deal? You know, a few food stains, maybe a bit 'rank' but so what, they can still do the job.

What if a person chooses not to use deodorant, it's their body, their choice. Maybe they like that natural smell. They can still do their job, right?

And why bother to shave every day, why not every couple of days, if a person thinks the 'scruffy' look is a matter of expression? They can still do the job, right?

What if you have a firefighter that just happens to like to wear eyeliner, mascara and lipstick? Just because he thinks he looks good in it? He can still do his job, right?
Comment by Mallory Turner on January 3, 2010 at 3:10am
I think pople are way too old fashioned about tattoos. You need to stop being so judgemental about it. You don't look at people without tattoos and think "wow what a prude" so why judge someone's character based on their looks. People have become incredibly shallow and entirely too sensitive about tattoos. I don't see why a tattooed candidate should be discriminated against if they are willing to at least cover them up during their shift. It's not like tattoos hinder an individuals work abilty.
Comment by James Ryan on January 2, 2010 at 6:38pm
This can be a sensitive subject but one that needs to be debated on all levels. Present employed members are well aware of their department’s expectation as a uniformed employee. It is the future employee who is at a disadvantage if they have already made a choice to express themselves through body art. If they were aware of the possible future affects on employment they could rethink the location of their expression. Many young college students and volunteers are displaying ink that would close the door on what many of them would like to obtain – a career position in the fire service. More needs to be done in making department policy known to those who are considering future employment.
Comment by Faye Kennedy on January 2, 2010 at 12:00pm
I just wander how many firefighters out there have a tatoo!?!?!?!?!?!? Yall should do a poll!!!!!!!
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 1, 2010 at 4:17pm
One man's common sense is another man's battle cry.
Which is why the legal system is clogged with frivolous lawsuits, an attorney fresh out of law school is "worth" $250 an hour and liability insurance is so high.
Between our justice system and our health care system, we are going to go "broker" than we already are.
We have to get ourselves back to center.
Art
Comment by Scott Cook on January 1, 2010 at 3:22pm
"Why do we want to find reasons to give our money away to the lawyers when the exercise of common sense would do just fine?"

Art, excellent point. The tough part is Junior Doe thinks he has a winnable case, and Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe, Esq's see that even though Junior Doe doesn't have a winnable case, he's got to pay their fee.

One man's common sense is another man's battle cry.
Comment by Jack/dt on January 1, 2010 at 1:26pm
"the exercise of common sense" Seems like few people bother to exercise that anymore.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 1, 2010 at 1:23pm
There should be no problem if, at the time of the employment contract is drawn, very clear expectations, including no exposed tattoos or piercings including earrings are stated as conditions of employment. A lawsuit challenging an employer's right to dress code issues would be a loser for you.
They can't tell that you can't have tattoos. They are telling you that you cannot display them when you are on the clock and on their time. THEY pay YOU. Therefore; THEY set the rules.
If you don't like it, I'm sure there are employers who will hire you with tats, gauges, piercings, neon spiked hair and pants hanging precariously from your butt crack.
Why do we want to find reasons to give our money away to the lawyers when the exercise of common sense would do just fine?
Art
Comment by Scott Cook on January 1, 2010 at 12:55pm
"Let’s be clear about the legal parameters that still remain. Employers can have a dress code or appearance policy prohibiting visible tattoos. Occasionally, an employee will claim race, gender, religious, or national origin discrimination, but those cases rarely get to first base. Employers have the right to tell employees how to dress, what looks professional and what doesn’t, and whether something is likely to interfere with customer or client relations."(Source: http://employmentlawpost.com)

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