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Attitudes to Tats Evolving in Workplace

September 23, 2013

Julian March, Star-News

Sept. 23--Sarah Peacock's needle buzzes as she gently presses the tip into a woman's upper arm.

The market research programmer is getting her daughter's face tattooed on her arm along with Chinese characters meaning "my little one."

The woman, who agreed to go by her nickname, Louie, does not want to draw more attention to her new body art because her boss is uncomfortable with tattoos.

Her predicament is fairly common for anyone with a visible tattoo navigating job interviews or the workplace. About one in five Americans has a tattoo, and while they aren't always immediately visible, many say they are becoming more and more common to see.

Changing attitudes

After Louie's new tattoo is finished, she will likely have to wear long sleeves at work because her boss wants all tattoos covered when clients come in. She has a colleague who applies pricey, specialized makeup to cover a tattoo on her neck. She recalled a situation when a good job candidate wasn't hired because her chest was covered in tattoos.

Louie, who also has tattoos on her back, hopes she can show them more openly in the future.

In an annual survey of human resources professionals, having visible tattoos was among the reasons to not get hired for a job, according to the latest data from York College of Pennsylvania's Center for Professional Excellence.

About 60 percent of the survey respondents listed tattoos as a negative, although more cited facial piercings (74 percent) or inappropriate attire (75 percent).

But tattoos, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.

While some employers have more rigid regulations, tattooing is becoming mainstream, said Peacock, who has been tattooing for 17 years.

"I think tattooing has lost its underground status," she said, sitting in Art Fuel Inc., the Wrightsville Avenue shop she opened in 2005.

In the 1970s or 1980s, she said tattoos were associated with skate punks or bikers. "It still was kind of the on the edge thing to do," she said.

While clients in some professions, such as law enforcement or banking or health care, may have to give more consideration to where they are getting a tattoo, she thinks the world is more open.

"Tattooing now has become a viable way to be creative," she said.

Tolerant of tattoos

When Curtis Vann stands at the front of Burgaw's Broken Bread Fellowship Church, he is dressed casually. He may preach in boots and a Harley Davidson T-shirt. He has a "sleeve," which is a tattoo or collection of tattoos that cover most of a person's arm.

"A lot of them are related to my faith," he said. His arm has Jesus on the cross and scriptures, along with a broken shackle, which symbolizes his recovery from addiction.

The church, which was founded in 2008, has grown to draw more than 100 people, including some other ex-addicts or alcoholics.

"We focus on the positive message of the gospel," he said. "We talk a lot about the mercy and grace and love of God."

His tattoos aren't a problem. "In a lot of ways, it helps me connect with certain people better," Vann said. "People feel more at ease."

At his day job, he is a purchasing manager at Hy Speed Cleaning Products of Castle Hayne. He wears button-up shirts there, but they can be short-sleeved.

In general, Vann thinks people are becoming more tolerant of tattoos.

Waitresses often have tattoos visible, which he said was unheard of 10 years ago. He travels a lot on motorcycles, and said coastal areas are more tolerant of ink.

Seeing tattoos are more common in Wilmington than other cities, such as Raleigh or Cary, Peacock said.

"I think Wilmington is a very accepting place for tattoos," she said.

While some workplaces regulate tattoos, not all discourage them.

"In my workplace, we welcome it," said James Zisa, a Wilmington attorney.

Zisa has sleeves on both arms and tattoos on his chest, shoulders and back. While his tattoos may not always be visible if he is wearing a suit, clients will frequently see him in the office with his sleeves rolled up.

"My clients see them. My clients don't care," he said.

He can think of some law officers that would not consider any tattoo appropriate, but his isn't one of them.

If someone is wise enough, they will find a career that works with their decision to have body art, Peacock said.

"You'll never let your body art stop you," she said.

Julian March: 343-2099

On Twitter: @julian_march

Lists of tattoo policies and tattoo facts are available at the end of this article.

Tattoo policies

New Hanover County Schools: Teachers and support staff must follow a dress code that forbids anything that is disruptive, provocative, profane, vulgar, offensive or obscene. The standard also applies to visible tattoos.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center: Policy states that "potentially offensive tattoos or body art should be covered at all times while working." Department managers and human resources determine how the policy is enforced.

New Hanover County: There is no written policy, said county spokesman Charles Smith. The Human Resources Department has said visible tattoos can not be offensive according to reasonable standards, Smith said.

City of Wilmington: The city allows individual departments to limit or prohibit the display of tattoos based on their work assignment, said spokeswoman Malissa Talbert.

The Wilmington Police Department does not allow tattoos on the face, neck or head. Additionally, all tattoos not covered by uniforms must be covered by a flesh-colored bandage or wrap while officers are on duty, though that provision only applies to officers hired after Feb. 11, 2005.

Tattoo facts

Percentage of Americans with a tattoo: 23

By age group

18-29: 38 percent

30-45: 32 percent

46-64: 15 percent

65+: 6 percent

Tattooed adults: Are your tattoos usually visible?

Yes: 18 percent

No: 72 percent

For men:

Yes: 23 percent

For women:

Yes: 13 percent

Source: Pew Research Center 2010 report

___

(c)2013 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

Visit the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: Tattoo policies evolving in the workplace


Source: (c)2013 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

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