Using ‘bald’ in an insult is sex-related harassment, Employment Tribunal finds – Employment Law Update

According to the Employment Tribunal Judge at Sheffield Employment Tribunal, insulting a male in the workplace by making reference to his bald head amounts to sex discrimination.

The Judge at the Sheffield Employment Tribunal in the case of Mr. A Finn v (1) The British Bung Manufacturing Company Limited and (2) Mr. J King were asked to consider a host of claims brought by Mr. Finn.  One such claim was that during the course of an altercation at work with Mr. King, Mr. Finn was referred to as a “bald c***”. Mr. Finn argued that this comment amounted to harassment, which is prohibited in the workplace pursuant to section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.

By way of brief background, section 26 of the Equality Act 2010 states that a person harasses another if they engage in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and that conduct has the purpose or effect of violating the other’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.  The relevant characteristic referred to is a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010, which includes sex, amongst other protected characteristics.

Convincing the Judge in this case that the offensive term was unwanted conduct that had the effect of violating Mr Finn’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment was straight-forward for Mr Finn.  The difficult issue for the Judge to decide was whether Mr Finn’s baldness was related to his sex.  If it was, then he would succeed in a claim for harassment based upon the comments made by Mr. King.

Mr. Finn argued that hair loss and baldness is much more prevalent amongst men that it is amongst women. As such, the insult used by Mr. King was related to his sex which would mean that he had been subject to harassment under section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.

The Respondents submitted to the Judge that females can also be bald and suffer from hair loss (which, coincidentally, has been a topic of public attention following the recent controversy surrounding this year’s Academy Awards ceremony). As such, the Respondents submitted that the comment made by Mr. King was not related to Mr. Finn’s sex and therefore could not amount to harassment.

The Judge found in favour of Mr. Finn by stating that men are much more likely to suffer from baldness and therefore, the comment made by Mr. King was related to Mr Finn’s sex. Employment Judge Brain made the following observation when giving his Judgment:

“…as all three members of the Tribunal will vouchsafe, baldness is much more prevalent in men than women. We find it to be inherently related to sex.”

If you believe that you are suffering from harassment at work, or if you are an employer who would like to take advice about how to prevent harassment within the workplace, you can contact George Mushahwar by phone on 01695 574201 or by email at [email protected] for further advice and information.