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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Tattoo cover-up 'discriminates'
Rebecca Holdcroft likes to "express" herself through body art.

But she felt she was being discriminated against at work and contacted the BBC News website to express her point of view.

If you have any other story ideas you can send them to the BBC using the form at the bottom of the page.

Even though she does not deal with the public face-to-face, Rebecca's latest employers told her she must wear a cardigan to conceal her tattoos. And in the hot weather, this can get unbearable, she says.

Rebecca Holdcroft
"It's not the first job where this has happened," says the 25-year-old temp, who had her first tattoo - Japanese blossom and ribbons on her back - at the age of 21.

At a previous workplace she was made to cover up and "on a hot day I passed out and cracked my head in a toilet cubicle".

After that incident, she says, she was given a desk fan, but this was taken away two days later for health and safety reasons.

"After all that, they allowed me to wear short sleeves at work," she said.

But for the last month Ms Holdcroft, from Hitchin, Hertfordshire, has been working for business outsourcer Vertex, dealing with applications for education benefits on behalf of Hertfordshire County Council.

Vertex says it believes it applied its dress code correctly, but has promised to review its policy in light of Ms Holdcroft's case.

All her dealings with the public are on the phone.

"I don't deal with the public, but I have to cover up in the office. I think it's kind of ridiculous," she said.

She says her tattoos are not sexually explicit, neither are they racist.

Rebecca Holdcroft
In total she has 18, including one behind each ear, two "sleeves" covering each arm, and a pair of wings with a heart on her chest.

She says some tattoos were visible at her job interview, but it was not until her second day in the office that she was told they looked "unprofessional" and she should cover up.

"If I am sitting I can take my cardigan off, but if I am walking around the office I have to put it back on," she said.

She says it is discrimination - even though the Citizens Advice Bureau and a solicitor have both told her there is no law to protect her.

"There are other people in the office that have tattoos, but not to the same extent. They aren't being told to cover up.

"I can't afford not to have a job so at the moment I comply with what work are asking. Even so, I'm not the only one in the office who thinks it is ridiculous."

Rebecca Holdcroft
"The point I am trying to make is it's not criminal to have tattoos."

While body art is now acceptable for public figures, such as David Beckham and Robbie Williams, in the office "it still seems to be a real problem", she says.

"It's just disappointing. It doesn't matter how well you work, what matters is what you look like," she said.

"Personally I don't think it should be a disciplinary issue. On a hot day I would like to feel comfortable.

"I want to feel I am not being judged on my appearance, but how well I am doing my job."

As to how members of the public themselves react, she says she once had a job in a shop and found, other than a few comments, she had no problems.

"It is just traditionally thought that people who have tattoos are either louts or criminals but that couldn't be further from the truth," she said.

"People who like tattoos aren't all criminals, they aren't all louts, they just like body art.

"I like body art, it's a way of expressing. It's always been around."

Rebecca Holdcroft
She sees little difference between changing your appearance with tattoos and having plastic surgery, for example.

"It's just another way of changing the way you look. I always liked tattoos, and I had some blank skin, so I thought why not?"

A spokeswoman for Vertex said it would review their policy.

"We expect all our employees to dress appropriately at all times and have certain minimum dress standards which we apply," she said.

"Of course, our employees are given the flexibility to dress according to the seasons, as well as any personal circumstances, which may make the wearing of uniforms or certain clothing items uncomfortable or impractical.

"In this case we believe that we have applied our dress code correctly.

"Our employee did raise their concerns regarding our policy and, given the sensitivity around this particular issue, we have relaxed our policy to accommodate her specific needs. We will review our policy in light of this matter."

What other subjects do you want to talk about? E-mail your suggestions using the link below and have your say!

A selection of your earlier comments

Her tattoos look amazing but are not suitable for the workplace. I have tattoos myself, but they are covered when I am in the workplace. Surely a long sleeve blouse is more than comfortable in the workplace! Fair or not - people judge by appearance and some styles are better in the correct context.
Jason James, Clifton, Bristol, UK

I personally don't care how many tattoos or piercings people have, although I don't much care for them. It's more important that the person is decent, hard working and honest.
Yiota Panayi Davis, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Sorry - I would not be able to take her seriously in a business environment. Could you imagine what a new customer would think when they met her for the first time. When are people going to realise that you CAN'T have everything their own way?
Dave, Kidderminster

To be honest, I can see this from both perspectives. I have tattoos and piercings, both of which I have had for over 10 years and I love them. They are a part of me, of who I am and how I wish to express myself. I do not believe I should be judged on that and in this day and age, people should be more open minded. However, that's not reality. I cover up my tattoos at work (most of the time....summer weather it's not always possible) and I don't wear my labret (lip) piercing. I don't want to be judged by how I look but how well I do my job.
Nic, Edinburgh, UK

Whilst I think that Rebecca looks incredible and her tattoos are clearly a big part of her life I do disagree with her attitude. Like Rebecca, I am a heavily tattooed female and have tattoos that are visible in short sleeves. I, luckily work for a company that do not mind me showing my tattoos. However, this level of trust from my employer does come with an element of responsibility and I am very conscious never to put my employers in an embarrassing situation.
Sally, London, UK

With all due resepect David Beckham is hardly tattoed to the extent that you are. Whilst I don't find your tattoes offensive in the slightest, buisnesses have a right to decide what image to present to the public (including the staff that are employed) and a right to uphold that image. I'd like an eyebrow piercing but it goes against my employer's dress code. It's quite simple really - comply with their rules or find another job!!!
James Stevens, Llandudno

I have tattoos and agree that it is not what you look like but if you can do the job then that's what counts.
Michael Dailly, Ellesmere Port - U.K.

I am in the process of applying to become a Police Officer, and have already encountered the potential problems because of my tattoos. I have some writing along the outside of each forearm - neither is crude nor offensive - and when applying to the Police sent photos of these tattoos as the application form requests. I got a reply back saying that they had noticed from the photos that I have tattoos on my upper arms and asking for photos of these. I called to query this - the application form is quite specific about requiring details of tattoos on the 'forearms, hands, face and neck' - and was told that they needed to see the ones on my upper arms "as some people find tattoos intimidating".

I would be very disappointed to be discriminated against by a Police Force when they are supposed to represent the community as a whole and are pushing 'positive discrimination' when recruiting.

I can understand that employers want to maintain a public image, and with the Police Force there is a desire to have an air of 'respectability'. The problem is that some institutions still consider that tattoos are not 'respectable', and it is this mindset that needs to change. Good for Rebecca for taking a stand and good for the BBC for publishing her story!
Duncan Paine, Preston, England

Tattoos seem to be part of a youth culture these days. In 20 or 30 years time Rebecca will regret having them. Easily done, hard to remove.
Richard, Zagreb

It's horses for courses. If you want to step outside the norm, then don't expect to be employed by a mainstream company. If you have a penchant for green hair, nose piercings, tatoos - in fact anything extreme, you need to work in an environment where such expressions of individuality are celebrated.
Deborah Jones, Guildford

In this day and age many more people seem to be getting tattooed , & a lot of the tattoo's that are worn nowadays are very much works of art & should be seen! It is a shame that they should have to be covered up because of the small minded views of a few people . I have quite a bit of tattoo coverage myself & I am a mum of five and a grandmother of 4 ,I find that my tattoo's are much admired when they are on show .
tracey forman, market deeping

This foolish girl is living in a fantasy land if she thinks employers will accept her tattoos to be on display. Most employers want to display an image of professionalism and to have an employee showing tattoos such as these would demonstrate that they have employed someone who clearly has a total lack of judgment.
Chris, sevenoaks, kent

In one job about eight years ago I was told to wear plain socks instead of the bright colours I preferred. Nothing was said about the outrageous ties that I used to wear at the same time! In deference to my supervisor whom I respected I complied but after he had left I reverted to the loudest socks I could find.
Mike Joseph, Chipperfield, Herts, UK

She should not have to cover up at all, she looks amazing - it's the rest of the backward society that should cover up and shut up!
nicki phillips, bedfordshire

At the moment I only have a small tattoo of a bear just above my right ankle. It's easy to cover up and becausse of my line of work (physiotherapy) I will not have any tattoo's on my arms. I think it depends a bit on your job. If you have a job that brings you into contact with customers a lot, the company can demand of you to dress and behave in a certain way. If on the other hand you're just working in an office the employers should not make such a fuss.
Brenda Groenendijk, Bunnik The Netherlands

Perhaps she should wear a long-sleeved shirt with a collar, like all the millions of male office workers round the world are made to.
J Barber, London

She remarks "I want to feel I am not being judged on my appearance", and then spends thousands on her appearance. I think it looks vulgar, and would refuse to sit next her if she was an office colleague.
kerry, London, England

If she wants to work in a professional workplace she needs to comply with the environment, if I was a manager I would expect people to dress professionally during working hours.
Mahmoud, Birmingham, UK

The 'Business World' needs to wake up. It still seems to have its head mired in the past, believing that the only business capable people are those who wear suits, have smart hair cuts and carry a briefcase. I believe it is absolutely criminal (and I have seen it happen) that eminently more capable candidates for jobs have been turned down because of the way they look, either because of tattoos, long hair (my own particular catagory), or anything else which isn't regarded as 'the norm'.
Richard Lauder, Lincoln

Rebecca Holdcroft shows off her tattoos

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