Baldness – The New Frontier in Workplace Harassment? - MLP Law

Baldness – The New Frontier in Workplace Harassment?

  • MLP Blogs
  • 19th May 2022

Julie Sabba, an Associate in the MLP Law Employment Team, considers a recent Employment Tribunal decision, Finn v The British Bung Company [2022], and its implications for harassment on the grounds of sex in the workplace. She asks the question - is commenting on the fact that someone is bald, akin to commenting on the size of a woman’s breasts?

By aleks

MLP Law

Facts
Tony Finn (TF), had worked for a manufacturing firm, The British Bung Company, for 24 years before being dismissed last May. TF raised various claims in the Employment Tribunal, including one of harassment, which related to the fact that his lack of hair had been commented on during an argument at work.
 
He stated that during an altercation with his supervisor he was threatened with being ‘decked’, sworn at and called ‘bald’. TF claimed that the use of the word bald amounted to harassment on the grounds of his sex.
 
Law
In essence, harassment under the Equality Act 2010 is where unwanted conduct has the purpose or effect of:
 
· violating the victim’s dignity; or
· creating an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive to the victim.
 
The conduct must also be related to a protected characteristic, such as sex, race or age.
 
Decision
In arriving at his decision the Judge determined that calling someone bald is an insult that amounted to harassment. He found that there is a connection between the word ‘bald’ on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other, due to the fact that baldness is much more prevalent in men than women.
 
The Judge concluded that baldness is inherently related to sex and that the derogatory comments in relation to TF’s appearance had been intended to hurt his feelings, and therefore amounted to harassment. The Judge continued by stating that commenting on a man’s baldness in the workplace is equivalent to remarking on the size of a woman’s breasts. 
 
Comment
It is important to ensure that staff are aware that unpleasant or negative behavior or comments towards colleagues are completely forbidden, whether they relate to appearance or to any other factor (such as mimicking the way someone talks). Policies promoting equality and diversity, underpinned by training, provide employers with the means to challenge accusations of discrimination between members of staff, in addition to encouraging a kind and collegiate atmosphere in the workplace.
 
If you would like advice from the Employment team at MLP Law, in respect of any of the issues raised here or more generally, please do not hesitate to get in touch on 0161 926 9969 or employment@mlplaw.co.uk, or follow us on Twitter @HRHeroUK.

About the expert

Stephen Attree

Managing Partner

Stephen is the Owner of MLP Law and leads our Commercial, IP and Dispute Resolution teams which provide advice on all aspects of the law relating to mergers, acquisitions, financing, re-structuring, complex commercial contracts, standard trading terms, share options, shareholder and partnership agreements, commercial dispute resolution, joint venture and partnering arrangements, IT and Technology law, Intellectual Property, EU and competition law, Brexit and GDPR.

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