Tattoos and piercings have become increasingly common in recent years… if you have one, you’re probably in good company!
In fact, a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 40% of millenials have tattoos, with approximately 7% of millenials having six or more tattoos.(1) Additionally, nearly 25% of millennials have a piercing somewhere other than an earlobe.(1)
These numbers reflect a significant increase in tattoos and piercings, compared to earlier generations. But, in many situations, it is individuals from older generations who own and run veterinary practices. This may lead you to wonder whether it will be easy to find a vet tech job with piercings or tattoos.
Is it legal for an employer to prohibit tattoos and piercings?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which exists to prevent discrimination in the workplace, states that it is completely legal for employers to:
- Establish a dress code that regulates employee appearance
- Evaluate employees based upon their adherence to that dress code(2)
In other words, your employer is within their legal rights to ban tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications. They can refuse to hire individuals with tattoos or piercings and, in most cases, they can discipline or fire employees who obtain new tattoos or piercings.
How do most veterinary practices handle tattoos and piercings?
I’ve worked for multiple employers during my thirteen years as a veterinarian. Most of those practices were in smaller towns in North Carolina; in other words, I practice in a socially conservative area. Therefore, it’s probably not surprising that the majority of my private practice employers had official or unofficial policies against tattoos and facial piercings.
In fact, I worked with one vet tech that had amazing full sleeves, but she was specifically hired to work in the treatment area in a role that minimized client contact because the practice owner felt that clients would find her tattoos disturbing. (Yes, I’m completely serious!) Although policies may have changed in the last few years, I think it’s safe to say that many private practice employers in my area are still uncomfortable with tattoos and piercings.
In contrast to private practice, I currently work for Banfield®. They permit visible tattoos and piercings, as long as they don’t pose a safety risk (no long, dangling chains for animals to get tangled in!) or contain offensive messaging.
I was curious whether veterinary practices have become more accepting of body modification, so I decided to conduct a completely unscientific poll in an online group of veterinarians. All of the veterinarians in this group happen to be moms (that’s the unifying theme behind the group), so it’s not necessarily a representative sample, but I knew they would be willing to help me out with some information!
First, I feel like I need to give a bunch of disclaimers:
- This was an entirely informal social media survey.
- I had a small sample size (109 respondents).
- People with tattoos/piercings were probably more likely to notice the post and respond, resulting in possible overrepresentation of tattoo/piercing-friendly workplaces.
- Vet moms may gravitate towards certain types of practices (like corporate practices, maybe) and other types of practices may be underrepresented.
- There may be other factors at play.
In other words, take the results of this survey with a very, very large grain of salt!
Now that I have that out of the way... the overwhelming majority of respondents (almost 90%) responded that their workplace was completely accepting of tattoos and piercings!! I have to admit, this was a much larger percentage than I expected. The remaining responses were split pretty evenly between practices with an official policy against visible tattoos/piercings and practices with an unofficial reluctance to hire vet techs with tattoos/piercings.
The Bottom Line
Many veterinary clinics will not hesitate to hire a vet tech with tattoos or piercings, provided the modifications are inoffensive and don’t pose a safety risk. There are still a portion of veterinary clinics, however, that will reject individuals for a job based solely on the presence of tattoos or piercings. The actual likelihood of this occurring is difficult to predict; it probably depends on your location (rural vs. urban), the type of practice in which you’re seeking work, and other factors.
If you’re considering a new tattoo or piercing, think about your goals and priorities.
If expressing your individuality through visible piercings and tattoos is a high priority for you, go ahead with it, but realize that you may need to make compromises in employment. You may have slightly fewer job offers to choose between, you may need to commute a bit further to find work, you may need to relocate to a different area, and/or you may be rejected for a job that otherwise seems like a perfect fit. These compromises may be completely worthwhile, however, if it means finding a job in which you feel fully accepted!
On the other hand, if you have professional goals that significantly limit the number of workplaces in which you would be willing to work (for example, you’re looking for a position in zoo medicine or another highly-competitive speciality, you want to work in a particular area, or you only want to work in practices that meet specific criteria), you may want to stick with piercings and tattoos that can be concealed. These can still allow you to express your individuality, while avoiding the scenario of being turned down for an otherwise-ideal job based solely on your appearance.
Having an awareness of your options can help you not only as you start your career, but also during future transitions that you may make during the course of your career.
- Pew Research Center. 2010. Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change.
- Quain, S. 2018. Are Anti-Piercing Policies Discriminatory?