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Does calling a man bald amount to sex discrimination?

The Employment Tribunal has ruled in the case of Mr A Finn v The British Bung Manufacturing Company Ltd and Mr J King, that calling a man ‘bald’ can amount to discrimination on the grounds of sex (specifically, it was held to be sex harassment).

Background

The Claimant in this case, Mr Finn, worked for The British Bung Manufacturing Company Ltd (“the Company”) for a number of years, when he was involved in an altercation with his colleague, Mr King.

During the altercation, Mr King called Mr Finn a “bald c***” and threatened physical violence. Among other issues that occurred during the course of Mr Finn’s employment, this resulted in the Company dismissing Mr Finn without notice.

Mr Finn commenced ACAS Early Conciliation and issued several claims to the Tribunal including harassment relating to age and sex.

Decision

Mr Finn was successful in his claim for harassment related to his sex in respect of the comment made by Mr King.

The Tribunal found that using the word ‘bald’ in a derogatory manner amounted to unwanted conduct and established a link between that and the protected characteristic of sex, because baldness predominantly affects men.

In delivering the decision, the Tribunal confirmed that the conduct of Mr King was used to purposefully violate the dignity of Mr Finn and created a “hostile and intimidating environment” for him – which is part of the legal test in determining whether unlawful harassment has occurred.

Impact on employers

This case acts as a stark reminder for employers that personal comments made within the work place can render the employer liable in discrimination claims.

Employers should have clear policies and procedures in place relating to:

  • Anti-bullying;
  • Anti-harassment;
  • Equal Opportunities; and
  • Standards of behaviour.

To limit or even eliminate liability, employers should ensure that such policies are communicated to and understood by all employees. Offering regular training to employees in these areas can also add another layer of protection and evidence that the employer has taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination in the workplace, which can be a defence to discrimination claims.

For further advice on discrimination issues, policies and protecting your business from similar claims, please contact Ashfords’ Employment Team.

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