Tattoos in the Workplace

Davey Rayner is getting ready for his latest interview. Like most job seekers, the 26-year-old Arlingtonian takes a shower, combs his hair, takes a shave, puts on a button-down shirt, and pulls on his “Fort Worth slacks,” a.k.a. the best pair of jeans in the pile.

Rayner is applying for an overnight-stocker position in Arlington. On the way out of the interview, he’s thinking he did pretty well. He talked about his strong work ethic and his willingness to do everything he can to provide for his wife and young child, both of whom live in California, where Rayner and his family had lived for several years.

Despite being overqualified and having lots of experience in a similar position, Rayner was rejected –– not because of his work history or any sort of lack of experience but because, he said, he has visible tattoos. His are on his hands, fingers, and neck.

“I worked as a tattoo artist in California for six years, and I acquired some souvenirs,” Rayner said. “People are, of course, more liberal in California, so visual tattoos and the importance of personal appearance are different from Texas.”

My personal experiences are not far off from Rayner’s. I have been collecting tattoos since the day I turned 18. It was a cold morning on December 13, 2002, and my car was the first in the parking lot at 360 Blues and Tattoos in Arlington.

The first artist to get to work saw me and was taken aback.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked semi-politely.

“I’m just here to get some ink,” I said timidly.

He gave me an odd look and said, “You have been waiting for this day for a long time, haven’t you? Get your ass in the chair.”

Two hours later, I had an intimidating flaming skull on my right calf. As I strutted out, boldly as if I had just become a man, all I could think was, “Holy shit! That was the worst pain I’ve ever felt, and it feels like my leg is on fire. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.”

Thirteen years later, and both of my arms are covered in tats.

During my time in the U.S. Army, I acquired a lot of body art, including a full sleeve of old movie monsters on my left arm, taken from an Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein movie poster. I have a visible skeleton key on my right forearm that shows my love for dark and twisted styles of art. I also realized that by having visible tattoos, most bullies might think twice before messing with me.

I also realized that potential employees might think twice before hiring me.

Immediately after finishing my bachelor’s degree at Texas Wesleyan University in 2015, I began applying for jobs. My first interview looked promising. It was for a marketing internship at a small and upcoming technology company in Dallas. I wore long sleeves to the interview to hide my tattoos, and even after I was hired, I hid my tats for two weeks. Finally, on a hot day, I got brave and changed into a short-sleeve shirt. The other employees were kind and welcoming and didn’t care about the way my arms looked. For most occasions, I was allowed to dress comfortably in t-shirts and jeans and to show my tattoos. After my internship ended in July, it was time to find a permanent career, which was challenging and rewarding.

I was hired by a marketing company to sell products at a big box retailer. The job was a lot more positive and upbeat but was super-strict about tattoos. The dress code required them to be covered at all times. I had to wear a suit and tie to daily training meetings and long sleeves while I worked in the field selling pillows.

I was promised a huge salary with my own office in only six months.

“Oh, by the way,” the marketing company president told me, “you are going to have to change your lifestyle and hide your tattoos forever.”

I loved the job, actually, talking to people all day and telling them about the awesome pillows that were 70 percent off. But I slowly began to realize that many of my fellow employees were quitting seemingly every other day, and when the manager announced one day that she had sat through 50 interviews but had not hired a single person –– that was a big red flag.

It may have been because the pay was $7.25 per hour or because people do not like direct sales positions, but one thing was for sure: No one was getting promoted to manager anytime soon. I found out that not a single new office had been opened in the last 10 years.

I decided that I was no longer going to surrender to the first opportunity that presented itself. I realized I could get a cool job whose bosses would allow me to not only show off my tattoos at work but might even welcome them.

According to a 2015 Careerbuilder.com survey, 31 percent of employers said they would be less likely to promote an employee with a visible tattoo, and 37 percent said they would be less likely to promote an employee with piercings. In that particular study, these two categories represented the highest-percentage reasons for employers not to promote employees.

Most jobs forbid tattoos or even discriminate against applicants who have visible tattoos. To a lot of North Texans, getting ready for work means covering up those tats or taking out the facial piercings. Chick-fil-A has a zero-earring policy for men and a one-per-ear policy for women. But imagine a job whose bosses not only let you express yourself through body modifications but encourage it. You can wear what you want (as long as it’s something). You also can let your sleeves see sunlight all day long, and customers can compliment you or compare notes. I’m not working at a tattoo shop. I’m working for Unimax West, a tattoo and piercing supply company in Arlington.

Working there has been like a dream come true. Unimax West bosses have shown me that tattoos can not only be accepted in the workplace but can show credibility because you have been through the process of getting a tattoo and you know at least something about the craft. Most of the employees have tattoos or visible piercings and wear them with pride. The employees’ body art shows their personal passion for the tattoo industry and that they have used or seen most of the inventory before getting inked.

The beauty of tattoos is that the art was earned. The wearer sat through agonizing pain to complete the piece that he or she felt passionate about, if only long enough to get the tattoo.

Many Tarrant County companies have outdated tattoo policies, probably left over from the 1970s, when the only people who had visible tattoos were criminals and/or bikers. If the folks who wrote these policies had any idea how the artform would evolve, they might not have been so stringent.

A lot of Tarrant County companies, though, have less totalitarian policies, in which visible tattoos are not forbidden but must be covered up during regular business hours.

One of these companies is Andrews Distribution. A Fort Worth beverage distributor serving all of North and South Texas, Andrews hires a lot of young workers because of the intense labor that is required. And since body art is more culturally accepted now than ever, many of these young men and women have tattoos and body piercings.

“Andrews asks that all employees keep their tattoos covered,” said Jeannette Gonzales, a specialist in human resources and hiring for Andrews in North Texas. “We have these policies in place so that our employees can maintain a professional look and so they are not viewed as scary or threatening.”

Former Andrews employee Jeremiah Johnson said, “having to wear long sleeves and pants every day would be terrible, especially in the summer. I have always chosen to get my tattoos on my body out of fear of not being able to be comfortable at work and about missing out on the next perfect job because someone else doesn’t like my art choices.”

Before getting your next tattoo remember that employers still have the right to regulate employee appearance at work generally and make employment decisions based upon certain aspects of appearance.

After continuing his job search for another few weeks, Rayner was hired at Unimax West. It is in this unique environment that his visible tattoos give him credibility and his past as a tattoo artist gives him an expertise that can be transferred to clients.

“I appreciate Unimax [West] because I don’t feel judged,” Rayner said. “When you have as many visible tattoos as I do, other people can make you feel like a black sheep. We have come a long way in our society from judging people based on the way we look. Remember, you can’t judge a book by its cover. You have to … judge its content and its character.”

Fort Worth will be showing off its ink and body modifications from Friday through Sunday at the Will Rogers Memorial Center (3401 W. Lancaster Ave., 817-392-7469), where the Third Annual Texas Ink and Art Tattoo Expo will take place. Featuring more than 50 artists from Texas and around the world, the expo also includes assorted contests and vendors. Tickets are $22-37.

On Saturday night at Lola’s Saloon (2736 W. 6th St., 817-877-0666), three heavy stoner-rock bands, Fort Worth’s Blood of the Sun and Southern Train Gypsy and Dallas’ Mountain of Smoke, will perform –– free admission with an expo wristband.

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