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The Sarah Buxton blog


Can the word ‘bald’ constitute sex-based harassment?

Sex is one of the nine protected characteristics. Like race, religion and belief, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, disability, and age - discriminating against someone based on their sex is an unlawful act.

A recent employment tribunal ruling brought this issue into question - specifically, whether or not calling someone ‘bald’ in the workplace constitutes sex-based harassment.

This case concerns an employee of the British Bung Company called Tony Finn. The claimant’s colleague, Jamie King, referred to him as a “bald ****’ after an argument ensued about machinery.

The employment tribunal was tasked with determining whether this slur constituted harassment or was simply an insult. Judge Jonathan Bryan, who headed up the tribunal, concluded: “there is a connection between the word ‘bald’ on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other.”

Whilst King’s legal representative stated that women can be bald too, the entire tribunal decided that baldness is more common in men, and therefore the comment constituted sex-based harassment.

So, what does this mean for you, and how can you avoid situations like this? As always, you should make sure that you have a robust anti-harassment policy - if you already have a policy, make sure it is up-to-date and contains procedures for employees wishing to report instances of harassment.

You should implement regular training to ensure all staff are aware of what constitutes sex-based harassment so that they know when to report it - whether it happens to them or they hear about it happening to others.

Make sure to offer staff all the necessary information and support they need by establishing a network or group of employees who are dedicated to tackling this particular issue.

In the event of sex-based harassment cases, you should take all the disciplinary measures necessary to set an example for employees and help others understand that they are protected.

If you need any help creating or amending anti-harassment policies, or require any other advice in this area, get in touch to set up a call.

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