Tribunal rules that calling man ‘bald’ is sexual harassment

A man has won his Employment Tribunal case after he was called “bald” by a supervisor. As hair loss is much more prevalent among men than women, calling a man “bald” as an insult is sexual harassment, the Tribunal ruled, saying it is equivalent to remarking on the size of a woman's breasts.

Tony Finn had worked for West Yorkshire-based British Bung Company for almost 24 years when he was sacked in May 2021. He took the company to the Tribunal, claiming, among other things, that he had been the victim of sexual harassment following an incident with factory supervisor Jamie King.

Finn alleged that during a shop floor row that almost erupted in violence in July 2019, King had referred to him as a 'bald ****'. The Tribunal heard that Finn was less upset by the 'Anglo Saxon' language than the comment on his appearance.

The allegation resulted in the panel deliberating on whether remarking on his baldness was simply insulting or actually harassment. It found:

"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."

As part of its ruling, the panel raised a previous Tribunal case where a man was found to have sexually harassed a woman by remarking on the size of her breasts. It said:

"It is much more likely that a person on the receiving end of a comment such as that which was made in [that] case would be female. So too, 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 with a view to hurting 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."

Describing the argument with King – who is 30 years his junior – Finn told the Tribunal:

"I was working on a machine that I had to cover awaiting specialist repair. The covers were taken off, and it was apparent that Jamie King had done this. When I spoke to him about it, he began to call me a stupid old bald **** and threatened to 'deck me'."

Finn said he had been left 'fearful for my personal safety'.

The Tribunal heard he then wrote a statement about the incident with his son Robert, who was a police officer, on official West Yorkshire Police paper. When this was handed to his bosses at the firm they at first believed that he had reported the incident as a crime. Finn told them that it was not his intention to make the statement appear like an official police document. However, the firm accused him of trying to intimidate them and fired him for misconduct.

As well as upholding his sex harassment claim, the Tribunal ruled the company had dismissed him unfairly because instead of waiting to hear from police after they complained about his son's involvement – as they had promised – they sacked him two working days later.

Finn won claims of unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, being subjected to detriments and sexual harassment. He lost an additional claim for age discrimination after the Tribunal ruled that King had not called him “old” but simply “bald”.

Finn's compensation will be determined at a later date, although any payout will be reduced as it was deemed he had contributed to his dismissal through his conduct.