Toni Hammer
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To tattoo or not to tattoo, that is the question. On one hand, you should be able to express yourself both in and outside the workplace with a unique tattoo and symbol that has meaning for you—it's your life! On the other hand, many businesses do have dress codes and reputations to uphold, so your dream job may be at a place that frowns on your ink showing during the morning briefing session.

If you're a young professional, it's pretty likely you have some body art. The Labor Dish says that 20 percent of all adults are tattooed, and that number increases the younger the men and women surveyed are. Thirty percent of millennials (defined as people born between 1981–1992) have at least one tattoo. As tattoo designs—and tattoo lovers—become more mainstream (mom tattoos are a thing now!), it's not only important for businesses to become more lenient in this area to continue growing their workforce, but also to decrease their chances of committing employee discrimination.

Court cases in which men and women claim they are being unfairly called out for their body art have been piling up in recent years. In one case, an employer prohibited women from displaying tattoos, but not men. In several other cases, complaintants argued that their tattoos were a symbol that has religious meaning, and employers are not allowed to discriminate based on religious grounds. With the rise in employees who have at least one simple tattoo, organizations must start defining their rules for visible tattoos now, so that inked employees know what to expect in terms of being treated fairly.

If you're thinking about getting your first small tattoo or have a full sleeve tattoo and are looking to add more, here are some great tips for how tattoo lovers can display their beautiful tattoo designs and maintain their professional life at the same time.

1. Consider where you work or where you may want to work in the future.

Many workplaces don't allow any type of tattoo—even small tattoo designs—to show at all in the workplace, which can make it difficult to find a job, while at other offices, you can sport a full sleeve tattoo, so long as your work is up to their standards. A 2015 survey conducted by the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development reveals there are still some mixed feelings about tattoos in the workplace.

On one hand, only 13 percent of those surveyed believe that having any type of tattoo will affect the chances of someone getting a job, showing that the perception of tattooed coworkers is becoming more positive. However, on the other hand, 60 percent of those surveyed viewed those with tattoos as "careless." The other two possible answers to that question were "freedom loving" and "easy going."

If you want the freedom to have your unique tattoo showing—without receiving judgment or calls into the HR office—think about where you'd like to work and how your skills and passions can put you in a workplace that is accepting of tattoos.

According to STPAW, a site devoted to more support for tattoed employees, the industry most accepting of tattoos is the military, followed by agriculture. If those fields aren't your cup of tea, consider some other options below.

For example, LeeAnn G. says , "I work in the 'birth community' and it is very accepting of tattoos."

And Lisa H. gets to show off her ink because "it helps that I both work in the Pacific Northwest AND at a university. Both of those things make having a tattoo an easy thing to blend with your career."

two hands

It's encouraging to know that some institutions are more concerned with the work you do than with a simple tattoo.

2. Make your physical situations work for you.

While Mia J.'s workplace is okay with her arm/wrist tattoos in the office, they do ask that she cover them up for meetings with outside clients. When the meeting is planned, she remembers to bring a sweater that morning, but what happens if a client shows up unannounced?

"I have carpal tunnel, so if I get hit with a meeting on a day I’m not wearing long sleeves, I just put my carpal tunnel brace on," she says.

What a genius way to make your circumstances work in your favor! Other ideas are to wear your hair down if you have a small tattoo on the back of your neck, or wear a watch or bracelet if, like Tina P., you have wrist tattoos. This tattoo is of her daughter's heartbeat. 

3. Location is everything.

While you may want to feel free to show off your tattoo whether you're at work or not, this finding may disuade you from making it a focal point. One study found that those with visible tattoos experienced more unwanted touching in the workplace than those without. Anyone with a tattoo can comiserate with this, since many people, for whatever reason, feel compelled to touch your tattoo design as soon as they see it.

If you decide you want to keep your tattoo design covered, here's some creative ways to do so. There are certain parts of the body where you can get a tattoo that are super easy to keep covered. The back of your shoulder is one example.

Kathleen G. says this tattoo on her left shoulder only shows if she's wearing a tank top or bathing suit whch aren't likely to be clothes she'll be wearing at work.

Other creative ideas are the collarbone like Jodi P.'s tattoo:

Or Shirlee C.'s ankle tattoo wihich is low enough down that it can be covered up by most footwear. 

What if you want a tattoo in a place that's more visible, but you're not sure if it will show or not?

4. Take your work clothes with you.

I never would have thought of this! Sara B. says, "I took a basic shirt with me, and after the artist laid down the imprint I went and put on the shirt. No visible ink, no problem!" 

Other options are to take your shoes with you if you'd like a foot or ankle tattoo, to see if it will be covered, or, if your work allows capri pants but no visible tattoos, take an extra pair of pants with you to the tattoo parlor.

We're living in changing times right now when it comes to tattoos and other forms of self-expression in the workplace. While I'm certainly hopeful that times are changing and soon tattooes won't be a problem for potental employyes, some of the statistics are still dismal.

With 37 percent of HR managers saying that tattoos are the physical attribute that is third most likely to limit career growth, and there being exactly zero states with laws which specifically protect discrimination against employees with tattoos, there's still a lot of work to do.

Whether you decide to get inked or not, just like any other decision, keep your work and future employment in mind And, as Krista J. says, "You can have as much ink as you want in a place where no one sees it!"

More on tattoos:

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