Calling Someone “Bald” Ruled Sex-Related Harassment

Sex-Related Harassment
LLM, LPC & LLB (Hons) Shereen Murphy
Written by: Jessica Lee Legally reviewed by: LLM, LPC & LLB (Hons) Shereen Murphy Updated: In: Employment

A recent tribunal has ruled that calling a man “bald” is sex-related harassment. This is not to be confused with sexual harassment. Sex-related harassment shares similarities in that it is ‘related to sex’ but is not ‘sexual’. In the case of Mr Finn, the distinction between the two is important.

Harassment under the Equality Act 2010 has three sub-categories. In recent years, sexual harassment has taken the forefront of the three, with movements like #MeToo and increased media coverage of sexual harassment cases.

You can categorise harassment in three ways:

  1. Unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic.
  2. Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.
  3. Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that leads to the victim being treated less favourably by the harasser.

For all types, the unwanted conduct must have the purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity. Therefore, creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim.

Mr Finn Wins Compensation for Sex-Related Harassment

Mr Finn was a veteran electrician, working at the manufacturing the West Yorkshire-based British Bung Company. He worked for the company for almost 24 years before he was fired in May of last year.  Mr Finn took the company to the tribunal claiming among other things that he had been the victim of sex-related harassment after an incident with the factory supervisor, Mr King. During a shop-floor row in July 2019, Mr King referred to Mr Finn as a “bald ****”. The tribunal heard that Mr Finn was more upset by the comment on his appearance than the expletive language.

The case resulted in the panel, led by Judge Jonathan Brain, deliberating whether remarking on a man’s baldness is simply insulting or is classed as harassment.

Findings From the Tribunal

“We have little doubt that being referred to in this pejorative manner was unwanted conduct as far as (Mr Finn) was concerned. This is strong language. Although, as we find, industrial language was commonplace on this West Yorkshire factory floor, 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 (Mr Finn’s) dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him. Of his own admission, Mr King’s intention was to threaten (Mr 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.”

“(The company’s lawyer) was right to submit that women, as well as men, may be bald. However, 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.”

“It is much more likely that a person on the receiving end of a remark such as that made by Mr King would be male. Mr King made the remark to hurt the claimant by commenting on his appearance, which is often found amongst men.”

“The tribunal, therefore, determines that by referring to the claimant as a ‘bald **** … Mr King’s conduct was unwanted, it was a violation of the claimant’s dignity, it created an intimidating environment for him, it was done for that purpose, and it related to the claimant’s sex.”

Why is the Distinction Between Harassments Important?

In the case of Mr Finn, the language used against him was threatening and offensive, and likely to breach several legal obligations. However, the language itself is not enough to amount to discrimination under the Equality Act. This is because there is nothing in the behaviour which would qualify as sexual harassment. Despite this, Mr King was still liable for discrimination. On reviewing the reference to being “bald”, the tribunal found this to be directly related to his male sex.

The tribunal agreed that women can be bald. However, baldness is much more prevalent in men than women. As the discrimination regarding Mr Finn being “bald’ ties to his sex, the tribunal ruled it protected under the Equality Act.

Preventing Sex-Related Harassment in the Workplace 

It can sometimes be easy to forget about the other forms of harassment, with sexual harassment having such a large presence in recent years. However, it is important to protect your employees against harassment related to sex and other protected characteristics. Sex-related harassment can apply if the victim doesn’t personally have the characteristic but has an association with someone who has it. Therefore, if an employee makes a complaint in the workplace, it is worth spending some time to see if a protected characteristic might be at play.

Does it Count as Harassment if it Happened Once?

Yes, stand-alone acts can amount to harassment.

What is Unwanted Conduct?

Unwanted conduct means unwelcomed or uninvited behaviour. It is not required for the victim to say that they object to the conduct for it to be unwanted. Additionally, it is possible for the victim to initially be accepted by the victim, but at some point, it crosses a line and becomes unwanted.

Unwanted conduct can lead to harassment if violates the victim’s dignity, even if this was not the intent of the harasser.

When a case is taken to the tribunal, they will assess the victim’s perspective. This is both a subjective and objective test, where questions will be asked, such as, “did the victim feel it violated their dignity” and “if so, was it reasonable for the behaviour to have that effect considering the circumstance of the case?”

The intention of the harasser (unless their intent was to violate the victim) will not be relevant to a claim of harassment.

How Our Workplace Sex-Related Harassment Lawyers Can Help Your Claim

Our expert sex-related harassment lawyers are available to support you through your claim. We will work closely with you to make sure you receive the justice and compensation you deserve.

Your solicitor will guide you through the legal process. They will help you choose the best options to aid in the success of your claim. At AWH, we believe that sex-related harassment in the workplace is a serious matter which an employer should not ignore. Therefore, our lawyers will work closely with you to hold those who are responsible for the harassment accountable.

Get in contact with our team of solicitors to start your claim.

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