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  The Herman Trend Alert

September 17, 2008

Skin in the Employment Game

Pop culture icons like Brad Pitt and Goldie Hawn have recently acquired tattoos, as have over 70 percent of National Basketball Association (NBA) players. Thus, it is no wonder that over 32 percent of young people aged 25 to 29 and 25 percent of folks aged 30 to 39 have followed suit (Harris Interactive, 2008). A 2006 Pew Research survey found 36 percent of people ages 18 to 25 had tattoos, while a full 40 percent of those 26 to 40 sported them.

As members of the Millennial Generation will readily share, acquiring a tattoo or body piercing is their way of expressing their individuality and their availability to members of the opposite sex. Tattoo parlors from Brazil to Malaysia have seen an upward trend in business over the last ten years, as the Millennials have come of age and can afford these displays of uniqueness.

Diverse workplaces including the military, hospitals, cities, police departments, courts, and many private companies now have policies prohibiting visible tattoos and piercings when employees are on the job. Wise employers spell out their policies regarding "body armor" (tattoos and body piercings) to their prospective workers early in the hiring process.

Most courts have backed up businesses in their right to make appearance demands from employees. However, in 2005 Red Robin Gourmet Burgers paid $125,000 in a court settlement with an employee who challenged the anti-tattoo policy on religious grounds. The case was settled before the jury was to decide whether the policy violated the worker's rights.

Moreover, there is another important consideration for employers. Findings from a research study conducted by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center indicated a high positive correlation (>20 percent) between people with tattoos and those who test positive for the infection hepatitis C. In fact, according to Robert Haley, MD, "[Tattoos] may have been the largest single contributor to the nationwide epidemic of this form of hepatitis".

As more employers around the world understand the risks, expect them to discourage their workers from acquiring body armor and to encourage their younger employees to express their individuality in less dangerous ways.


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