Can calling a man “bald” amount to sex-related harassment?
Surprisingly – yes! An Employment Tribunal ruled that a man who was called a “bald ****” by a colleague in the workplace was subjected to harassment related to sex.
Mr Finn had been employed as an electrician for British Bung Company for almost 24 years. In July 2019 an altercation arose between Mr Finn and his supervisor Mr King during which it was alleged Mr King called Mr Finn a “bald ****” and threatened him with physical violence. The issue was raised with management, but no further action was taken by the employer.
Following another incident between the pair in March 2021, Mr Finn told his manager that he was unable to work with Mr King, left the company premises and did not return to work. Ultimately, Mr Finn was dismissed by his employer.
Mr Finn took his employer to the Employment Tribunal claiming, amongst other things, that he had been the victim of sex-related harassment following the incident with Mr King in 2019.
For a harassment claim to be successful, a claimant must be able to show unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
The Tribunal determined that Mr King had “crossed the line” with his comments by making personal remarks about Mr Finn’s appearance. In addition, the Tribunal found that, following an admission by Mr King, that he had intended to threaten and insult Mr Finn. It was held that the conduct amounted to harassment on the grounds of sex as “baldness is much more prevalent in men than women” and that calling someone bald is “inherently related to sex”.
Ordinarily, claims for harassment must be brought within three months of the last alleged act of harassment, and therefore Mr Finn should have been out of time to bring a claim. However, the Tribunal ruled that it was in the public interest to ensure that the wrongdoers were held accountable for their actions and therefore that it was just and equitable in this case to extend the usual time limit.
The Tribunal is yet to decide on the amount of compensation to be awarded to Mr Finn.
Lessons for employers
The case shows the wide scope of harassment claims related to sex (and other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010). It also demonstrates that stand alone comments or actions can amount to harassment. Employers therefore need to be careful when matters of this kind arise and should investigate thoroughly to best protect themselves in the event of a Tribunal claim.
Importantly, this case also highlights the Tribunal’s willingness to consider harassment claims even when they are brought outside of the ordinary three-month time limit (in this case almost two years after the alleged harassment took place). In another recent case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal also upheld a decision to extend the time limit for lodging a claim for discrimination which was made considerably out of time.