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Tattoos at work: Why employers can turn job candidates away

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Jack Wallace's tattoo of his sons' name. WBIR photo Jack Wallace's tattoo of his sons' name. WBIR photo
KNOXVILLE (WBIR) - One man claims the ink on his skin caused him to lose out on a job.

Jack Wallace says he can't understand why he's being turned down for a job because of his tattoos.

He said he's never had an issue with an employer, and while lawyers say it may be unfair, it's not illegal.

"It's embarrassing. I know I'm qualified," he said.

Back in March, Wallace was at an employment fair trying to interview for a job with Bojangles' when he was asked about his tattoos.

"She said, 'before we waste each other's time, do you have any tattoos?' I said 'yes, but they're covered up.'"

The tattoos are of his son's name, "Gaven Haize" running down the inside of his forearms.

"She made me show her both of them. She said 'our policy is we don't hire anyone with tattoos.'"

Wallace was stunned - he's worked in food service before, including management positions and never had an employer have a problem with his tattoos.

Knoxville employment attorney Jesse Nelson says the hard truth isn't pretty.

"Is it fair? No. Is it legal? Yes," said Nelson.

He explains in Tennessee employers have the right to discriminate against anyone they choose, but people are protected against being turned away for gender, disability, religious, and racial reasons.

"Is it fair? Probably not. Particularly when we see how many people have tattoos and when we look at how the tattoo will impact the person's job performance. I believe the answer to that would be no, in most people's employment circumstance," Nelson explained.

Wallace says he's still waiting to hear back from at least five jobs he's applied for. In the mean,  time he's doing odd jobs to make ends meet.

"Going for job and how the economy is, not doing well in the first place and I have a family that I'm trying to take care of."

A Bojangles' managing partner who runs several franchises here in Tennessee tells WBIR 10News their current employee handbook is under revision to allow long sleeves and tattoo cover-ups.

The Knox County Health Department doesn't regulate individual businesses but told WBIR 10News - if an employee has painted nails, false nails or more than one ring (a wedding ring/engagement ring combo counts as one ring), they must wear gloves.

There are no health department rules or restrictions on earrings.
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