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Calling a man ‘bald’ is sex-related harassment, tribunal rules.

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An electrician who was called a “bald c***” by a colleague was a victim of sex-related harassment, a tribunal has found.

The Sheffield tribunal found that the claimant, who was employed at the Respondents Company, had also been harassed and threatened with physical assault after he questioned a colleague about a piece of machinery.

It found that the “bald c***” insult was “unwanted conduct'', and that even though “industrial language was commonplace on this West Yorkshire factory floor”, Finn’s colleague “crossed the line” by referring to his appearance, creating an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

The tribunal also found there was “a connection between the word ‘bald’ on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other”, and although the respondent argued that women as well as men could suffer from hair loss, the tribunal found that men are much more likely to be bald.

The claimant, who had an “unblemished disciplinary record” for 24 years, had worked at the family-owned manufacturer of wooden beer casks from 22 September 1997 until his dismissal on 25 May 2021.

The events leading up to his dismissal began on 24 July 2019, when an altercation occurred between the claimant and a colleague, who worked as a shift supervisor. The claimant had been looking after a piece of machinery that was covered by his colleague. According to the claimant’s version of events, the colleague called him a “stupid old bald c***” and threatened to “deck [him]” after he was asked to help with the task.

The dismissal letter alleged the claimant had “deliberately provided a witness statement which falsely suggested on its face and by its content, that it had been made to, and taken by, West Yorkshire Police in connection with the investigation of an alleged crime”. The claimant appealed but failed.

In its judgment, the tribunal found the claimant was a victim of harassment relating to sex as a result of the incident in July 2019. Although the claim was brought 18 months out of time, the tribunal extended the time because it was “in the public interest that such complaints are considered and adjudicated upon and that wrongdoers are held to account”.

Claims of harassment related to age and sex as a result of the March 2021 incident were dismissed. Claims of making a detriment arising from protected disclosures were also dismissed.

However, a claim of detriment arising from a health and safety reason succeeded because the claimant was “ostracised and ignored” and his claims were not properly investigated by the respondent following the March 2021 incident.

The complaint of wrongful dismissal succeeded because – while the claimant could reasonably be found guilty of destroying the trust between employer and employee with his witness statement – it found that his intentions in presenting the statement were “to be helpful and preserve the relationship” and that the claimant had tried “no fewer than seven times” to reassure his employer that there was no police investigation.

A claim of unfair dismissal was also successful on the grounds that the employer did not act in good faith during the disciplinary procedure, however another claim that the claimant was unfairly dismissed for a protected disclosure failed.

As there's no freestanding claim in law for workplace bullying, claimants often have to bring claims under anti-discrimination law, and it was reasonable for the claimant to argue the ‘bald’ comment was sex related.

Employers that failed to identify or react to sensitive employee issues would face the risk of costly tribunal claims.  These are on the rise now.

The award for compensation will be determined at a later date.

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