Air New Zealand is relaxing its policy of visible tattoos and will get a review panel to rule on cases where it's not clear cut that body art meets acceptable standards.
The airline has bowed to mounting pressure and announced changes to allow all staff to display their ''non-offensive'' tattoos at work and its staff of 12,000 would be encouraged to treat tattoos like speech.
''In the same way you shouldn't swear, make hateful comments, lewd jokes, or use violent language in the workplace for example, the same goes for tattoos,'' said a spokeswoman.
''Where the situation is not clear, we will have a Tattoo Review Panel to assist employees and managers to determine whether a tattoo is aligned with our policy.''
The review panel would be made up of a range of airline representatives from various areas of the business.
The panel would be able to seek advice from external consultants in exceptional circumstances to ensure there is no internal bias, the spokeswoman said.
Those applying for jobs at the airline with a tattoo that is offensive or inappropriate and can't be covered by their work attire would not be eligible to work at Air New Zealand.
But an employment lawyer is warning that the tattoo policy could expose the airline to legal challenges.
Susan Hornsby-Geluk said tattoos were ''incredibly personal'' and a matter of taste.
''Air New Zealand will presumably develop policies as to what types of tattoos may be considered offensive, but this will inevitably result in disputes and legal claims.''
Some staff would not take too well to being told that their body art is offensive.
The airline's u-turn comes after a series of high profile cases of applicants being turned down for jobs because of tattoos, particularly Tā Moko, the latest a Whangarei man who refused a job as a part time check-in agent.
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Sydney Heremaia was told in February his body art that he declared didn't comply with uniform standards.
Today he said he was delighted by the change in policy.
''What a great outcome for all staff and for all people who apply for jobs. It's more about the rights and freedom of all indigenous people to express themselves in the workplace.''
When he applied for a job he disclosed that he had a tā moko on his right shoulder, and tatau, a Samoan form of skin art, on his left forearm. Both were not visible while wearing a corporate shirt but they still didn't pass the interpretation of the old rules.
Heremaia said he would think about re-applying for a role with the airline if one was suitable when the new rules, which will come into force on September 1.
''I might even send in an email before then.''
A union has also welcomed the change of heart.
E tu's head of aviation, Savage, says that for the last two years it had been talking to the company about a tattoo and uniform policy that respected gender and cultural diversity.
"Aotearoa is a Pacific nation. No one should be surprised to board an Air New Zealand flight or turn up at a New Zealand airport and be attended to by someone with a tattoo and a smile on their face. Tā moko, tatau and tattoos are all Pacific artforms."
While Savage said the question of what counts as an appropriate tattoo is a subjective issue but the company has a process in place to deal with that.
The Green Party has commended Air New Zealand for updating a hiring policy that it called discriminatory.
Its co-leader Marama Davidson said she had been shocked to hear of people still being denied job interviews for wearing their whakapapa on their skin.
''Tā moko is an identity marker, not offensive 'body art', and I am pleased that Air New Zealand will finally be leaving these attitudes in the past," she said.
"This type of discrimination is completely at odds with their brand and the work they have done to promote Māori culture on their services "
Māori cultural heritage needs to be understood as unique to Aotearoa and celebrated in all situations," Davidson said.
The airline's chief executive Christopher Luxon said the airline was committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace that truly reflects the makeup of the country.
The changes follow five months' research with Air New Zealand customers and employees.
Luxon said it was important that this change applied equally to all Air New Zealand staff.
''We want to liberate all our staff, including uniform wearers such as cabin crew, pilots and airport customer service teams, who will, for the first time, be able to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniforms.''
Research indicates that one in five adult New Zealanders has at least one tattoo, with more than 35 per cent of those under 30 being inked.
"In conversations we've had with customers and our own people domestically and overseas in the past five months, it's clear that there is growing acceptance of tattoos in New Zealand, particularly as a means of cultural and individual expression,'' said Luxon
He said it was important for the airline to keep up with change in social norms - but it was still a case of securing the best person for the job.
Many other airlines retain a strict no visible ink policy. One reason airlines have been wary of changing them is because of concerns that passengers from Asia would associate tattoos with criminal gangs.
• Air New Zealand was today named New Zealand's most attractive employer in the annual Randstad Employer Brand Research for the third consecutive year, a record six times in total.
The research reveals public perception of the country's 150 largest employers. Air New Zealand was recognised by more than 4000 people surveyed for its financial health, use of the latest technology and strong reputation. Those surveyed also perceived the airline as having attractive salary and benefits and a pleasant work atmosphere