Teachers and tattoos


Teachers and tattoos can be a controversial subject. You might be a teacher interested in getting a tattoo but apprehensive about whether your school will allow it or already have one and have been told by your line manager that it needs to be covered up.

In this article, we look at what employment law says and how schools practically deal with members of staff with tattoos. 

You may also be interested in another one of our articles on staff dress codes in schools.

Are tattoos a protected characteristic under the Equality Act?

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It sets out the different ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone. Many of the rules and regulations at your school will be informed by the Equality Act. We have published an overview going into more detail here.

The Act defines a number of types of unlawful behaviours. Your school would be in breach of the Equality Act if you are subject to:

  • Direct discrimination
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Discrimination arising from disability
  • Victimisation, because you have made a complaint about discrimination
  • Not receiving reasonable adjustments for a disability you have
  • Harassment related to a ‘protected characteristic’

Tattoos would not be considered a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010. So employers such as schools have considerable discretion as to how they deal with employees or the recruitment of those with tattoos.

However, some tattoos can have a religious or cultural meaning, banning tattoos could constitute discrimination on grounds of race, or religion or belief, which are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Research from ACAS suggested that employees with visible tattoos continue to face discrimination in the workplace. Almost one in three young people have a tattoo, with ACAS warning that employers could be missing out on talented employees. This could also affect teacher attraction and career progression.

Teachers and tattoos: what can happen in practice?

Teacher Tapp explains many schools and school leaders will adopt a flexible, common-sense approach that takes into consideration the needs of its staff, pupils and their families. If a teacher has an explicit tattoo that is not appropriate for a school setting, they will likely be asked to cover it, while a visible yet discreet and “inoffensive” tattoo may be allowed.

This means that school leaders are allowed to make hiring decisions based on the presence of visible tattoos. They are also perfectly within their rights to implement a dress code that stipulates that tattoos must be covered up on school premises. In certain circumstances, employers could dismiss a member of staff for not covering visible tattoos, especially if they are deemed to be upsetting pupils and their families. 

If you are concerned about how you have been treated because of your tattoo you can contact us for further advice and support.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.