CHONTELLE McGoldrick was 18 years old when she got an anchor tattooed on the inside of her right ankle.
It’s about the size of a 10 cent piece and is her second tattoo — the other is a small wave on the side of her torso.
Ms McGoldrick’s tattoos have never caused her any problems, until now.
The now 21-year-old applied for a job as a flight attendant with Qantas and Emirates earlier this year, but both turned her down because of her ankle tattoo.
“Both airlines said they wanted to offer me a position but they couldn’t, because of my tattoo,” Ms McGoldrick, who is from the Gold Coast, told news.com.au.
“They said some cultures and religions find them offensive, so I was told to come back when it’s completely gone and there can’t be any scarring or marks.
“I’ve worked in an orthodontist’s office and a health food store and at both of those places [having a tattoo] didn’t really matter.
“But the airlines said getting it removed would make it easier for me to get the job in the future, because I’m already on their records.”
Emirates confirmed their in-flight staff cannot have visible tattoos and Qantas said all tattoos are to be covered and never visible when in uniform.
(When contacted by news.com.au about Ms McGoldrick’s situation, a Qantas spokesman clarified the airline’s position on tattoos, saying “a tattoo on an area of skin like your ankle would not be a barrier for working as a cabin crew member at Qantas.”)
While the warning “no one wants to hire someone with a tattoo” is the kind of thing your grandmother might have offered up, it turns out she may have a point.
There is no national law stopping employers from banning tattoos in the workplace, or from dismissing a job applicant because of their tattoo.
“Physical appearance is not a protected attribute under the Fair Work Act,” a Fair Work Ombudsman spokeswoman said.
“It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or prospective employee on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.”
The Australian Human Rights Commission says employers are allowed to set rules regarding workplace appearance, but stressed it’s important to ensure that any proposed rules that affect people with tattoos do not amount to discrimination.
For example, say an employer refuses to hire any workers with visible tattoos, even for roles that involve no customer contact. If a Maori job applicant who had a tattoo for reasons connected to his ethnic origin was not hired because of his tattoo, this could count as racial discrimination.
One in seven Australians has a tattoo, according to a 2012 study from the National Health and Medical Research Council. But more than a third of Australians regret getting inked and one in seven of this group are considering removal.
The laser tattoo removal industry is booming in Australia — buoyed by the success of laser hair removal clinics — but tattoo removal can be a long, expensive process.
Most people require 6-15 laser sessions – and the price varies from $30-$300 per session – depending on the size and style of tattoo.
Ms McGoldrick is currently trying to have her ankle tattoo removed. “I just want to get rid of it so there’s no trouble like this in the future,” she said.
The clinic where she receives her treatments has seen so many young people miss out on jobs because of their ink, that they’ve started offering free treatments to anyone under 21 with face, neck and hand tattoos.
“The other day a lifeguard from Dreamworld came in,” said Paul Roberts from InaFlash Tattoo Removal, “because he has a tattoo on the side of his neck and his hands and they told him they needed to go.
“I’ve had another bloke who wants to join the army but he’s heavily tattooed on his neck and hands. Tattoos do impact your career and whether you think people should care or not, for lots of employers it’s a major issue.”
In 2014, the Queensland government cracked down on tattoo licenses, sending many artists underground. Backyard tattoos are becoming more common, particularly among teenagers, because they are cheap and don’t require parental permission.
“These kids don’t think about the consequences,” said Mr Roberts. “My youngest client is a 16-year-old girl and she got her first tattoo when she was 12. Now she’s trying to get a job and she wants to get them removed. I think a lot of kids just get them done and think ‘Oh, if it’s an issue later, I’ll just get it taken off’.”
But there’s only a 25 per cent chance of having your tattoo completely removed.
“A lot of people get it covered up with another tattoo, or you can look at microdermabrasion or skin bleaching agents, but that’s a 12 to 18-month long process. It’s only now people are starting to understand the job impacts.”