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Calling a man ‘bald’ is harassment

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An employment tribunal has found that being called ‘bald’ at work is harassment related to sex and not just an insult.

As hair loss is much more prevalent in men the finding was that using it to describe someone in this way is a form of sex-related harassment.

It was claimed that on two occasions electrician Tony Finn, who worked for a West Yorkshire-based manufacturing company, the British Bung Company, had heated exchanges, in so called ‘industrial language’ with his supervisor Jamie King and was ultimately called a “bald c***.”  He had no previous disciplinary issues and had worked for the company for 24 years before he was dismissed.

It was also suggested that commenting on a man’s baldness is the equivalent of commenting on the size of a woman’s breasts in the workplace scenario.

Employment Tribunal Findings

“We have little doubt that being referred to in this pejorative manner was unwanted conduct as far as [Finn] was concerned,. This is strong language. Although, as we find, industrial language was commonplace ….., in our judgment Mr King crossed the line by making remarks personal to the claimant about his appearance.”

“It is difficult to conclude other than that Mr King uttered those words with the purpose of violating [Finn’s] dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him,” the judgment found. Of his own admission, Mr King’s intention was to threaten [Finn] and to insult him. In our judgment, there is a connection between the word ‘bald’ on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other.

Commenting on the case, Head of Employment at Pearson Solicitors, Susan Mayall, said what it brought into focus was the Equality Act and how it was interpreted and what harassment actually was.

“The Equality Act became law in 2010 and covers everyone, not just in workplace scenarios. Essentially what it does is protect people from discrimination, harassment and victimisation.  We see it cited in many employment tribunals because of the protected characteristics we all have.”

The Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act, there are nine protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

“There was obvious workplace ‘banter’ which is prevalent across many firms, but in this case it was not the expletive which was taken as offensive, but the use of the word ‘bald’ and here is where the line was crossed as the protected characteristic ‘sex’ then forms the basis of the tribunal claim. In employment law there is no specific claim for bullying and so claimants often decide to bring claims under anti-discrimination law,” added Susan.

Employment Discrimination Laws

However, what is interesting when employment lawyers look at the laws surrounding discrimination is what is NOT currently covered.  As we always say employment law is a minefield in which the mines are always changing and moving around, so it is important that owners of business have a good contact and a trusted employment lawyer.

This is an area of the law in which the laws are open to interpretation and are also always changing.  When we look at what is not covered under discrimination legislation, for example weight and fat references as there is no protection for being called  ‘fatty’ or if a colleague said ‘I can see you like cakes’  there may however be protection if the weight issue is linked to a medical condition.

Likewise there is currently no anti discrimination law regarding the menopause but if it can be linked, as has been successfully seen recently in the Employment Tribunal, to either disability or sex, then it can be covered under the Equality Act 2010.

“The lesson to learn here for business owners is that so called workplace’ banter’, ‘industrial language’ and  offensive remarks of any kind can lead to tribunal claims.  Prevention is always better so I advise employers to check their policies and make sure they are covered – then hopefully they don’t end up with a costly claim against them,” added Susan.

Compensation for this case will be determined at a later date.

How can we help

For advice on Employment Law contact our Employment Law Solicitors on 0161 785 3500 or email empolyment@pearsonlegal.co.uk

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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