Sex harassment: Calling a man 'bald' is a form of sex harassment, UK employment tribunal rules

Bald man covering his face
A British employment tribunal has ruled that calling a man 'bald' can be considered sex harassment, according to reports. Photo credit: Getty Images

A British employment tribunal has ruled that calling a man 'bald' can be considered sex harassment, according to reports.

Sex-based or sex harassment is not to be confused with sexual harassment, which is defined as unwanted physical advances or conduct of a sexual nature. Sex harassment also involves unwanted conduct, but typically constitutes offensive behaviour that is targeted at an individual's sex or gender. 

For example, an employee frequently telling derogatory or demeaning jokes about women could constitute sex harassment if a particular individual deems this behaviour unwelcome and offensive.

The ruling came after a man complained about being called a "bald c***" at his former workplace. 

Tony Finn had worked for the British Bung Company in West Yorkshire for almost a quarter of a century when he was fired in May last year, the Daily Mail reports. Finn subsequently took the company to the employment tribunal, claiming - among other things - that he had been the victim of sex harassment following an incident with his factory supervisor, Jamie King.

Finn alleged that during a row with King in 2019, the supervisor had referred to him as a "bald c***", with their war of words almost resulting in physical violence.

As hair loss is far more prevalent among men, King using the term 'bald' to describe Finn can be considered a form of discrimination, Judge Jonathan Brain found. 

According to Health Navigator, hereditary hair loss in males - or male pattern baldness - accounts for 99 percent of hair loss in men and affects more than half of the male population by the age of 50. By the age of 70, four out of five men have suffered hair loss, and for 25 percent of men, genetic-related hair loss begins before they are 21 years old, according to the American Hair Loss Association (AHLA). 

The ruling was made by a panel of three men who in making their judgement, also bemoaned their own lack of hair, the Daily Mail reports. 

In their ruling, the panel compared calling a man 'bald' to making unwelcome remarks about a woman's breasts.

The Sheffield-based tribunal heard that Finn was more upset by the comment on his appearance than the foul language directed at him by King.

During their decision-making, the panel - led by Brain - deliberated on whether King's comment about Finn's baldness constituted an insult or actual harassment.

"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 panel said, as reported by the Daily Mail.

"[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."

In their judgement, the panel also referenced a previous case brought to the tribunal, in which a man was found to have sexually harassed a woman by commenting on the size of her breasts. 

"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," they said.

"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 c***'... 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."

The tribunal heard that during their argument, Finn had been called a "stupid old bald c***" by King, who is 30 years his junior. He also threatened to "deck" Finn, which made Finn "fearful for [his] personal safety".

As well as ruling that Finn had been the victim of sex harassment, the tribunal also found the company had dismissed him unfairly due to a conflict over Finn's statement appearing like an 'official police document', as he had written it with the help of his son, a police officer. 

Finn won claims of unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, being subjected to detriments and sex harassment, the Daily Mail reports.

However, he lost a claim for age discrimination after the tribunal ruled that King had not called him 'old', but simply a 'bald c***'.

Finn's compensation will be determined at a later date. However, any payout will be reduced as the tribunal also found that his conduct had contributed to his dismissal.