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A bit of background: I have one visible tattoo, directly on my hand. Since I've started my job 7 months ago fresh out of college, it hasn't been mentioned once.

Now, there are a lot of other tattoos I plan on getting. My one visible tattoo wasn't an issue during the interview process and obviously in getting hired, and I'm really unsure as to why. I'd like to think that they really don't mind tattoos, and it isn't even a considering factor for them. On the other hand, being in the deep south, I can't help but wonder if they chalk it up to me being "young and dumb" or something similar. Perhaps they think I'll only have this one.

I don't see any on anyone else I work with. As far as I know, there's nothing in their policy about it. I mean, I would think it's safe to assume such a thing given that I've been hired.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that if a workplace doesn't accept things like that, then I'll find another job. That's perfectly within their right. But I'm wondering how to approach this situation.

Is it the polite thing to do to inform my boss before it happens? Should I just come in with it and see what happens? My only concern with approaching my boss with it is that I don't want him to think it's up to him. If I approach him about it, it's really just going to be a formality.

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    "Personally, I'm of the opinion that if a workplace doesn't accept things like that, then I'll find another job." Sounds like a plan! What kind of job do you have? – WorkerDrone Sep 13 '16 at 19:40
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    And nobody else in the development team has tattoos? I'm surprised. – WorkerDrone Sep 13 '16 at 20:22
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    It's funny how your prejudice about southeners caused you to fear they will have prejudices about your tatoos. – Tomáš Zato Sep 13 '16 at 21:44
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    Are you speaking of the South of which country? Japan where if you have a tattoo you can't get into saunas? – Bakuriu Sep 14 '16 at 12:18
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    Slightly off-topic, but - you've been on the job for 7 months, fresh after college. Quitting it now would play against you during salary negotiations on your next one. You could also wait with your tattoo for 1-2 years, and then make it. If they choose to let you go, at least you worked there for some time, so it doesn't look bad on your resume. – Neolisk Sep 14 '16 at 14:12
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Are you customer facing? If so, that could have a bearing on how they will receive it. Otherwise, I'd suggest go ahead and get it. It's dangerous to set a precedent of notifying them about something that has no bearing on your job.

I'm certain you've weighed the potential issues that visible tattoos may have on future employability but you probably wouldn't want to work for someone who had issues anyway.

I would also consider location of the new tattoo relative to the visible one(s) you already have. Going from an arm or hand to another one probably wouldn't be that big a deal. But going from arm or hand to face will have some shock value.

You might also wish to consider if you care whether this changes your relationship with people for whom you work. They may see you differently and this could affect interpersonal relationships as well.

One suggestion I would make is to float some trial balloons. Talk to coworkers about tattoos and attitudes casually. Mention that whatever you're considering might be something you might want. See their reaction and make your decision whether to "warn" them based on that. My feeling is that if you treat it like it's a big deal then they will too. If you treat it matter-of-factly, they may as well.

Lastly, I would encourage you not to stereotype everyone in the deep south with a broad brush. We're not all close-minded backward intolerant hicks. You'll find biases elsewhere in the country as well and you'll find that such biases are as individual as the people who hold them, not the region in which they live.

  • I'm not customer facing. However, I could be later in life. Who knows. That's irrelevant though. I definitely like your suggestion about trial balloons and about if I treat it like a big deal, they likely will too. And my apologies for implying that I thought that way about southerners. I come from a small town where the stereotype is actually the norm. But you're right in that I should avoid that. – The Netty Professor Sep 13 '16 at 19:50
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    One of life's occasions where it's better to ask for forgiveness afterwards, not permission beforehand. – Binary Worrier Sep 14 '16 at 9:41
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    And not that forgiveness is even necessary. OP is doing nothing against policy. – Chris E Sep 14 '16 at 13:17
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    "We're not all close-minded backward intolerant hicks." Damn straight. Some of us are close-minded backward tolerant hicks. – Kevin Sep 14 '16 at 17:41
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    @ChristopherEstep That is all true - but what's important to a 20 something year old fresh out of college probably won't be important to the same person 30 years later. That's the nearsightedness I'm pointing out, and there certainly is a plethora of folks who got tattoos while young that they wish they hadn't... Shutting doors today that you may want left open in the future, is usually not what one wants to do. – SnakeDoc Sep 14 '16 at 22:37
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I suggest taking the long term point of view. Someday, possibly in 10 or 20 years time, you may want a job for which visible tattoos would be a problem. I know at least one person who missed out on a job she would have really liked because of a tattoo. If she had known she would have that opportunity, and lose it because of the tattoo, she would have chosen a less visible location.

With suitable clothing choices, there are many places you can get a tattoo that can be hidden, if necessary, on-the-job, but visible during leisure time. Get your tattoos that way, and you are not eliminating any career choices.

Either way, there is no point telling your employer in advance, unless the employer's view will affect your decision.

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    This doesn't really address the question though. OP isn't asking about the advisability of getting a tattoo. That decision has already been made. The question is whether the employer should be told ahead of time. – Chris E Sep 13 '16 at 19:20
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    @ChristopherEstep Having seen someone lose out on a job she wanted and could have got with a more strategic tattoo placement, I'll give up some reputation to warn of the long term risk. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 13 '16 at 21:57
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    See? This really is a community. We care about people. – user37746 Sep 13 '16 at 21:58
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    @Kaz Certainly possible, but so is a return to dress standards that would make any visible tattoo a deal killer for any job. If the OP wanted to get a purple with green polka dots hair job I would say "go for it", because that can be changed when necessary. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 14 '16 at 7:38
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    OP already has a visible tattoo that cannot possibly be hidden. This advice is good and worth considering for others faced with this choice but it doesn't apply to this particular situation. – Lilienthal Sep 14 '16 at 11:44
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Where are you getting the tattoo? There is a large difference in perception of a tattoo on your forearm and one on your neck.

The best answer I can give you is, it depends. It depends on the company culture where you work, the kind of boss and coworkers you work with and what your role at the company is. They may be fine with someone who works in the warehouse having a tattoo but will never promote that person to a client facing role.

I had two tattoos that are in places where they are always covered, and decided that I wanted a power button on my wrist and was not sure how it would go over with my company and our clients since I was in a client facing role. To evaluate it I drew the tattoo on my wrist everyday for 6 weeks. When that time passed and no one mentioned it I went ahead and got it done. It has not been a issue in the almost 10 years and 5 jobs later.

  • For now, I'm thinking just my arms. The neck could be a possibility under the right circumstances, but that would be quite far in the future, and even still unlikely. My role in the company is a developer and I don't ever interact with customers. I don't expect to stay invisible forever though. If I could draw worth a damn, I might give that a shot! Hah – The Netty Professor Sep 13 '16 at 19:54
  • @TheNettyProfessor I made a stencil by drawing it on a piece of cardboard and cutting it out. Seriously if you are ok with it having a negative impact on your current workplace just go and do it. Wear long sleeves if you are really concerned. My only recommendation is dont get something stupid. Cause you know I will make fun of someone for stupid tattoos. – JasonJ Sep 13 '16 at 20:15
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    awkwardly shifts shirt to cover up tribal armband from when he was 19 – MikeTheLiar Sep 13 '16 at 20:55
  • that's actually a really good idea I think, to repeatedly draw what it would be and see if anyone notices – sevenseacat Sep 14 '16 at 7:54
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    I’m surprised it's not more common practice to get draft tatoos in henna first, not just to try it but also refine the design. – JDługosz Sep 14 '16 at 11:03
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Just stroll in with it, it's your body, there is no need to ask permission. You seem to be already aware that tattoos do have some negative connotations with some, that is just something you have to live with. People get used to them.

I'm heavily tattooed and have several that I couldn't hide if I wanted to, face, neck, forearm, hand and finger. People do look sideways at them, and it may well have been a deciding factor in jobs I have missed out on, but again, that's just the social price you pay. It is also useful sometimes.

If you're going to worry about things like that, don't get tattooed (they don't wash off). In saying that, it also depends on the actual tattoo, gang insignia isn't a great idea, and neither is anti-social tattoos or swear words. But if you're willing to live with the repercussions then go for it.

  • Yup, at the end of the day you make conscious decisions and accept the consequences. It's a two-way street though. If you don't like the policy and they are adamant to budge, then you can always find different, more accepting environment. If they are just being difficult and value your looks over you as a professional and your expertise (I know, naive, call me Corporate Cubicle Romantic) then well... If I were a customer and for example had problem with engineer sent on site to sort out any issues, I'd be mad to do so. Very mad. – Cthulhubutt Sep 14 '16 at 9:26
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    @Cthulhubutt Once it's on, it's a fait accompli, there is not a lot they can do about it overtly. It's more likely to be a factor further down the career track for the OP. – Kilisi Sep 14 '16 at 12:16
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    @Khilisi That's true. I don't think it's the end of the world as some people would make you believe. You just learn to deal with it along the way as that kind of malarkey takes on many forms in organisations, tattoos are just one example. It helps me to think about it this way: some folk thing tattoos are trashy, I think that people at work who wear formal black trousers and brown shoes are like that to me. Most important is not to compromise on this, it's your choice, no matter whether someone likes it or not. – Cthulhubutt Sep 14 '16 at 14:15
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If you get many visible tattoos, your boss will either (a) not be bothered, (b) slightly annoyed, (c) highly annoyed so it will affect your career, or (d) so annoyed you lose your job.

What difference can it make to tell your boss ahead? It makes a difference if he or she convinces you to not have a tattoo. It makes a positive difference if the boss is Ok with the tattoo but appreciates that you asked. It makes a negative difference if the boss advices you strongly against the tattoo and you still go ahead.

What difference can it make if you don't tell your boss? You might lose your job because your boss would have talked you out of it, but you didn't give him a chance. Your boss may be annoyed because it affects the workplace and you should have asked.

If you are having a tattoo no matter what, possibly better not to ask. If you could be convinced otherwise, better ask.

  • Or if the choice of design might be affected, better ask. – keshlam Sep 13 '16 at 20:52
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    I doubt it's a good idea to let a permanent design for your body be altered by the wishes of someone you work with temporarily. You'll probably regret being forever stuck with a tattoo that isn't exactly what you wanted more than you'll regret losing that job 5 years ago because your then-boss didn't like it. – Erik Sep 14 '16 at 8:32
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I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the employee handbook. Policies like this are typically regulated by HR and the hiring staff. If there isn't an employee handbook portion (or even an employee handbook) about visible tattoos then there is no legal recourse the company can take against you.

If you were hired with a visible tattoo with no questions regarding it, chances are your boss is tattoo friendly. I wouldn't put them in a potentially awkward situation in an effort to put your own mind at ease. I've always been a "it's better to ask for forgiveness, than to ask for permission" type of person myself.

Lastly, this really isn't a matter that deals with your boss. If you have questions about tattoos talk to HR about it, they will tell you real quick about the policies currently in place regarding the matter.

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    Perhaps you need to reread the question. There wasn't a question about policy. It's about the advisability of telling the boss. There is no policy, that's been established because of the existing tattoo on hire. – Chris E Sep 13 '16 at 20:56
  • Added additional information to my answer. Also it might have to do with policy since it is not directly stated that it doesn't. Checking the employee handbook before doing something is always advisable. – seroki Sep 13 '16 at 21:03
  • Our employee / student handbook clearly says "No visible tattoos". If it is not in the handbook (yet) they must not have a position (until someone causes them to take one). – user37746 Sep 13 '16 at 21:57
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Don't ask your boss.

The situation is, your boss might not like it but accept it.

If you ask your boss and you get that answer and go ahead with the tattoo, you just did something you knew your boss didn't like. Your boss will think: "hey even if I told him I didn't like it he still did it."

If you don't ask, your boss still might not like it but think more like : "hey, he got another tattoo, I don't like tattoos, but he's a good guy and I never told him I don't like them."

It's better to ask for forgiveness then permission.

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    "It's better to ask for forgiveness then permission" -- provided you're prepared for what happens if you aren't forgiven. Since the questioner says that letting them know would be a formality, and is perfectly happy to leave the job in preference to not getting the tattoo, they probably figure that being fired (or asked to quit in order to avoid being fired) is not a problem for them. – Steve Jessop Sep 14 '16 at 9:03
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So if your current tattoo is obvious and conspicuous, and you haven't been doing anything to hide it, and no one has commented about it at all after this time - to me that is an implicit acceptance of your tattoo.

I don't think you are under any obligation to get permission for another one, as long as you aren't getting tattoos someone could find offensive like naked women, certain symbols, or words.

protected by Jane S Sep 14 '16 at 1:43

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