Tattoos are no longer the taboo that they once were. Tattoos were commonly attributed to sailors, rock musicians, and other “outsiders.” These days are long gone, with the Pew Poll reporting in 2010 that 40 percent of American aged 18 to 29-years-old have at least one tattoo, and nearly 20 percent have six or more. However, this still doesn’t mean that tattoos are widely accepted everywhere. There is still a professional dress code to consider for work (depending on the job) and it doesn’t look like that is poised to change any time soon.

In the U.S., tattoos can still be a touchy subject with some employers. The U.S. Army is a good example, although probably on the more extreme end of the conservative spectrum. The military has strict rules against tattoos that contain hate speech, gang tattoos, and other “blatantly disrespectful” tattoos – and these rules are pretty standard. Not this nor any other blog post can help you find a good job that allows racist, sexist, or other prejudicial tattoos. However, the military also frowns on full sleeves, tattoos on the hand or feet, and those on the neck or face. The point is that all tattoos should be covered when in dress uniform, and they have also been known to conduct full body checks.

Many employers feel the same way about tattoos. Obviously inappropriate workplace tattoos, like anything depicting drugs, sex, or hate speech, are a no-go on any level. However, employers often look the other way if the tattoos can be covered while at work. Although, some employers report that a job candidate could win them over with exceptional skills even if their appearance is a bit more unconventional. At the end of the day, what your boss is okay with depends largely on the tattoo itself and how customers/clients react to it.

To make things easier on yourself, stick to the company mandated dress code. All employers should have a dress code in place that addresses appropriate clothing as well as body art. In this context, tattoos are more than tattoos. The company needs to control the message and corporate culture that it exudes, and the way employees look feeds into that. It can even get an employee dismissed from the job in an at-will employment state like Illinois.

Your employer probably does not care if you have tattoos, but rather if they are a part of your work “uniform.” This is probably why the same Pew Poll reports that 70 percent of surveyed people said that their tattoos are hidden by clothing. Unlike tattoos, which are permanent (or at least used to be…), tattoo and other body modification trends change quickly. It is up to the employee to fit into the business’ model. If you have outgrown your tattoo, or lifestyle has outgrown it, now is the time to make the change.

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