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Last updated: Wed. Sep. 03, 2014 - 03:50 pm EDT


Etiquette advice: Employers should set rules on visible tattoos

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Q.: Karen, I was in the hospital recently and was surprised by the visible tattoos on many of the nurses. It really left a bad impression on me. I know tattoos are very common these days, but as a former nurse, I was very disappointed to see them on my caregivers and felt it looked unprofessional. What do you think of this?

A.: Yes, tattoos are very common these days and the trend doesn't seem to be diminishing. Certainly individuals have the right to tattoo their bodies if they wish, but I do think there is some risk in how one is perceived, especially in the nursing field, with lots of visible tattoos. A staff with lots of tattoos can send the wrong message to the people they care for, especially since there is a very wide age range in any patient population. Older people may be distracted and even offended by caregivers with visible tattoos.

In any traditional business venue I caution people to lean toward the conservative side of how they present themselves to the public. If staff members are causing negative comments from the public about how they look, it may be time to address the issue of visible tattoos on staff members and employees.

Here are some things I recommend:

*Have well-defined guidelines in employee handbooks about what, if any, visible tattoos will be tolerated. And reserve the right to ask that certain tattoos be covered if the subject matter or the design is offensive.

*Be vigilant about employees complying with the rules.

*Stand back and look at how your staff or employees present themselves. Is the impression they are giving in keeping with the message you want the public to take away about your organization?

*The right to personal expression is often an argument for body art, and I respect that. But in the health care field, in particular, I think the patient comes first and every effort should be made to make them feel confident in the people caring for them — and that those people are real professionals.

Karen Hickman is a local certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy. To submit questions, email

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