Do You Hire Tattoo-Covered Employees?

This Chicago company defends a no-tattoo policy. Let's find out if a potential hire’s ink affects your hiring.
Do You Hire Tattoo-Covered Employees?
Do you have a rule requiring employees to cover up tattoos on the job?

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When John Baethke visited the doctor recently, he was greeted by a male nurse with a bunch of visible tattoos. And, Baethke admits, he was a bit taken aback. 

“I was sizing him up,” says Baethke, owner of John Baethke & Son Plumbing in Chicago. He’s quick to note that his first impression of the nurse wasn’t favorable, until he witnessed the nurse’s considerable skills and knowledge. 

Lesson learned? You never get a second chance to make a first impression. 

In an online plumbing forum earlier this year, Baethke posted, “I like tattoos and have no problem with them. I also, however, understand that I am trying to appeal to a large audience. I cannot have a customer lost because of a tattoo.”

There’s no doubt there’s still a stigma about tattoos, but they’re becoming more mainstream — a 2014 Fox News poll found 20 percent of voters, or one in five, has at least one tattoo — which makes this a very real-world issue among plumbing and drain cleaning contractors and franchisees looking for new hires. 

The hard truth

Baethke’s no hypocrite; he has a tattoo on his forearm that he always keeps covered with long sleeves on the job; he is even in the process of getting it removed so he can wear short-sleeved shirts and not worry about a client’s response.

“I had a few occasions in the summer that my forearm tattoo showed, and I could notice customers looking at it,” he says. “It’s just the hard truth.”

Perception obviously affects a service business like plumbing, Baethke realizes. So he defends his policy, which he didn’t have when he incorporated the business in 1993. But, he admits, tattoos are a bigger thing now.

“As we moved up through the years, then it became a written policy,” he says. “If it can’t be covered, I can’t hire you.”

Baethke says he didn’t create the policy based on consumer complaints. “No customer ever said anything, but you could see their eyes go directly to the tattoo,” he says. 

“I want to have as few or zero impediments to our having a successful service interaction.” 

Not taking chances

How do potential employees feel about the policy? Baethke says he’s never had anybody vocalize complaints to him. He adds that he has hired people with tattoos, making it clear, however, that they must be covered on work time. 

Baethke adds that he has the same opinion about body piercings; an employee may have a piercing, but may not wear jewelry on work time. 

But it wasn’t Baethke’s policy on tattoos or piercings that have given him the most disagreement from his employees. Baethke insists employees keep any facial hair well groomed and prefers none at all. He once asked a worker who came in with scruff to shave. “That’s where I probably got the most pushback,” he says. 

“Probably 90 percent of people wouldn’t have a problem with it, but I’m not going to take the chance.” 

Baethke considers these guidelines good proactive practice in fostering a positive reputation for his business. He likens the policies as upholding the same professional standard as having spotless service trucks and employees wearing uniforms and nametags.

Do you have a rule requiring employees to cover up tattoos on the job? Post a comment below!


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