Are tattoos prohibited at workplace?

An individual can express their personality through their tattoos. They serve as promises of love, decorations for bravery, reminders of the past, and signs of religious and spiritual dedication. However, there is still prejudice towards persons with tattoos in some occupations.

In July, Bheki Cele, the police minister, took a swipe at those who have these kinds of body piercings when announcing the hiring of 10,000 more police officers. “When you have a tattoo, we don’t hire you because you have a tendency of being a gangster,” said Cele. Following criticism for his remarks, the minister was accused of having an “old-school worldview.”

Several people, including Western Cape Minister of Agriculture Ivan Meyer, tweeted that they disagreed with Cele’s viewpoints. “It is ridiculous. What did he smoke to make such remarks? I have more respect for people with tattoos than for this ”malkop“ (nonsensical) Minister of Crime,” posted Meyer.

Hugo Pienaar, director in the employment law practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, claims that discrimination based on looks is a constantly evolving legal sector that has an effect on workers and potential candidates everywhere.

“Tattoos have traditionally been associated with fringe personalities who don them as a way of signifying their outsider status and rejection of mainstream society. With the exception of offensive tattoos that are, for example, racist or sexist, tattoos in modern times have become more common and accepted in society,” said Pienaar.

He claimed that an employer’s dress code and grooming expectations frequently addressed tattoos and body piercings.However, the legal expert thinks that a focus on tattoo discrimination is warranted given the recent rise in lawsuits in other countries and the public anger over Cele’s remarks.

“South Africa does not have any express provisions in section 9(3) of the Constitution or section 6(1) of the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 prohibiting appearance based on tattoo discrimination.

“As such, employees will need to base their claims on a listed ground. Thus, to succeed, an employee would have to argue that personal appearance should be protected under freedom of expression or personal dignity.” Tattoos are still a touchy subject in the workplace for Thapelo Mkhwanazi, a 29-year-old accountant from Durban. It is challenging to conceal them in the office because Mkhwanazi has them covering his arms and neck.

“I was not explicitly told to cover them, but it was heavily implied. As a result, I mostly wear polo-necks sweaters and shirts, even though we don’t have a formal dress code. I am nervous about what I will do if I have to look for another job in the near future,” he said.

As it turns out, tattoos have long been utilized for a variety of reasons, the least of which is gangsterism affiliation, in contrast to the Minister’s remarks and the SAPS recruitment program.


Egyptian female mummies must have been the kingpins as they include some of the first known examples of tattoos, dating to around 4000 BC and thought to have served as both a form of body ornament and protection during pregnancy and childbirth and while we’re in Africa, it used to be customary for Berber women to tattoo their bodies and faces in the Aurès Mountains of Algeria and in Morocco, both for aesthetic reasons and due to a belief that the tattoos might treat ailments and infertility. In Niger, Wodaabe males employ facial tattoos for social identification and merely aesthetic reasons.

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