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Can calling someone bald amount to harassment?

What is the case about?

In the case of Mr A Finn v The British Bung Manufacturing Company Ltd, the employment tribunal considered whether a bald man was subjected to sex related harassment in the workplace by his line manager or whether the name calling was an insult which did not meet the threshold of what constitutes harassment for the purpose of the Equality Act 2010.

The circumstances

Mr. Finn worked as an electrician at the manufacturing company, The British Bung Company Ltd and was dismissed in 2021. In the lead up to his dismissal, Mr. Finn got into an argument with his line manager, Mr. King.

The argument centered around Mr. Finn needing to cover a piece of equipment that was out of order due to needing repair, however Mr. King removed the cover. On doing so, Mr. Finn approached Mr. King about why he had done this, to which Mr. King responded with threatening and aggressive behaviour which included calling Mr. Finn “stupid bald ****” and was also threatened with physical violence.

Mr. Finn then produced a written statement explaining the incident, however, because his son was a police offer, he used official police headed paper to do so, and when presenting it to his employers, it appeared to be an official police matter. This led the company to taking disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Finn on the grounds of alleged intimidation and Mr. Finn was dismissed.

He complained to an employment tribunal that he was subjected to sex related harassment due to the comments made in relation to his lack of hair. He argued that being called bald amounted to harassment on the grounds of sex, under the Equality Act 2010. He said that he had been left fearful for his own safety after the incident.

The judgement

In hearing the case, the employment tribunal found in favour of Mr. Finn and ruled that he had indeed been subjected to sex related harassment for the purpose of the Equality Act.

The tribunal found that being called ‘bald’ was in connection to sex, but even though women may also be bald, overall, baldness is more prevalent in men. They also ruled that the remark was made with the intention of hurting Mr. Finn and that it amounted to unwanted conduct which violated Mr. Finn’s dignity which created an intimidating environment.

They also ruled that it was inherently connected to sex and referenced a previous case ruling in which a woman had been found to have been harassed by a man, when he commented on the size of her breasts. In this case, the tribunal ruled that because it is more likely that the person receiving the comments would be a woman, that it amounted to sex related harassment.

In Mr. Finn’s case, the tribunal took account of this piece of case law and concluded that in this claim too, it is evident that it was much more likely that the person on the receiving end of the comment about baldness would be male.

They therefore ruled that Mr. Finn had been subjected to sex related harassment. Details about the compensation award are not yet known, a separate hearing is due to be scheduled where a ruling will be made on this.

The tribunal also ruled in favour of an unfair dismissal and found that it was not the intention of Mr. Finn to make this written statement appear like an official police statement.

Learning points

This is an interesting case but when you consider that this type of name calling is likely to affect more men and women you can understand how the tribunal concluded that it was in connection with the protected characteristic of sex.

Under the Equality Act, for which sex is one of the protected characteristics, harassment is when a person is subjected to unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating their dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.

Harassment can be regarded as behaviour that is offensive, frightening or in any way distressing and it is the impact on the individual that is important.

It may be intentional, obvious, or violent, but it can also be unintentional, subtle and/or insidious. Harassment may be persistent, or an isolated incident and can take many forms, from relatively mild ‘banter’ to actual physical violence.

This case serves as a reminder of the importance of workplace training on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and the dangers that come with workplace banter and name calling.

We are running our next Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Management and Development training course on Thursday 7 July. You can find out more details about the cost and how to register here.

Further Information

If you would like support, please contact us or get in touch with us on 0844 324, 5840 and speak to a member of the team.

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