A ‘Bald’ decision by the Employment Tribunal
Anthony Finn was employed as an electrician by The British Bung Manufacturing Company Limited from 22nd September 1997 until his dismissal on 21st May 2021. When Mr Finn was dismissed without notice, he took his case to the employment tribunal and submitted a number of claims. One of these claims was a complaint of harassment relating to sex, arising from an incident that happened in July 2019. The incident arose from a disagreement between Mr Finn and a colleague, Jamie King, whilst they were both working on the shop floor. As the disagreement escalated, it was found that Mr King had called Mr Finn a “bald c**t” and threatened to “knock him out”.
According to the Equality Act 2010, to be guilty of harassment at work, an employee must engage in unwanted conduct against another employee with the conduct relating to one of their relevant protected characteristics. This conduct either intends to or has the effect of violating the individual’s dignity and/or creating an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive. The 2010 act also sets out sex as one of the relevant protected characteristics.
A question for the courts to then consider was whether Mr Finn being called a “bald c**t” amounted to an act of sexual harassment.
Three important questions needed answering:
- Was the conduct unwanted?
- Did the words intend to or have the effect of violating Mr Finn’s dignity and or create a hostile environment?
- Did the words relate to Mr Finn’s protected characteristic of sex?
It was found that there was little doubt as to whether the conduct was unwanted. It was also easy enough for the courts to decide that the words had intended to violate Mr Finn’s dignity, given that Mr King admitted to this himself. The more difficult question was whether the words used related to a protected characteristic?
The employment tribunal found that there is a connection between the term bald and the protected characteristic of sex. Despite acknowledging that some women are also bald, it was unanimously agreed that baldness is much more prevalent in men and therefore inherently related to sex.
Although the claim was 18 months out of time, the tribunal took the unusual decision to extend the time limit, partly on the basis that it was in the interest of the public to do so. Their reasoning was that it is important to hold those guilty of harassment at the workplace to account. Therefore, the claim succeeded. The British Bung Manufacturing Company and Jamie King were both found to have committed an act of sexual harassment and Mr Anthony Finn is now entitled to remedy.
Acts of harassment can be difficult to spot at the workplace. If you feel as though you have been receiving unwanted conduct from an employee/employer and this resulted in a hostile environment for you, please email us at email@example.com or call us on 0207 388 1658.
Written by Kurt Emre