A case in which a man was dismissed from his job after an aggressive and foul-mouthed exchange of words has led to an employment tribunal ruling that being called ‘bald’ at work constitutes harassment related to sex. 

Electrician Tony Finn worked for West Yorkshire-based British Bung Company, without any disciplinary problems for 24 years, before he was dismissed in May 2021.

Two big arguments with a factory supervisor over the maintenance of equipment, one in 2019 and one in 2021, saw Finn referred to as a “bald c**t”. On the second occasion, on 25 March 2021, Finn said he feared for his personal safety.

The employment tribunal was asked to rule whether calling someone bald is an insult or amounted to harassment.

The tribunal’s ruling stated: “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 respondent’s representative 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. (In contrast, we accept that baldness affects (predominantly) adult males of all ages so is inherently not a characteristic of age).”

The tribunal said that in a previous case a man was found to have sexually harassed a woman by commenting on the size of her breasts, stating that it is more likely the person receiving a comment “such as that which was made in (that) case would be female.

The comments were personally offensive to Mr Finn, the tribunal ruled and found that the remark was made with a view to hurting the claimant by commenting on his appearance which is often found amongst men.

The tribunal, therefore, determined that by referring to the claimant as a ‘bald c***’, the 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.

After the second incident, Mr Finn immediately went to see the factory management, but unhappy at their response, left his shift and drove home. There was no further contact between claimant and respondent until 8 April 2021, 14 days after the incident. During this period there was some confusion over whether Mr Finn was on furlough or not.

British Bung Company dismissed Mr Finn for misconduct in July 2021 after he had written a statement about the second incident with his son, a police officer. He handed this, which was headed “West Yorkshire Police”, to his bosses who then allegedly accused him of trying to intimidate them.

Mr Finn, who was accompanied by his son (not in uniform) at this meeting, had assured the managers that this was not a police statement but the firm dismissed him on grounds of gross misconduct. Mr Finn appealed but the company decided that he had deliberately sought to use West Yorkshire Police headed paper to influence them and had not been sufficiently apologetic about this.

The panel upheld claims of sex harassment, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal but dismissed a claim of age discrimination.

A date to determine the claimant’s compensation will be set by the court, but it is possible the respondent could appeal the decision so watch this space!

Although the case has attracted plenty of media attention because many people don’t see how the use of the word “bald” can amount to sex-based harassment, the ruling was utterly predictable. The law on harassment is very wide and captures a huge range of behaviour and comments in the workforce. The fact that an expletive was also used in this case made it worse, but the use of the word ‘bald’ would likely amount to harassment.

Employers beware and make sure you train your staff accordingly!