An Employment Tribunal has agreed that an electrician experienced sex-related harassment when his baldness was insultingly referred to by his supervisor.
Under Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, a person harasses another person if:
- their conduct is unwanted and is related to a relevant protected characteristic; and
- it has the purpose or effect of:
- violating the other person's dignity; or
- creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.
The relevant protected characteristics under Section 26 are:
- gender reassignment;
- religion or belief;
- sex; and
- sexual orientation.
An electrician was employed by a manufacturer for a number of years before being dismissed.
A couple of years before his dismissal, the electrician got into an altercation with the factory supervisor, who threatened him with physical violence and called him a 'bald c***'.
After his dismissal, the electrician brought several tribunal claims against the company, including a sex-related harassment claim regarding the comments made by the supervisor.
The Employment Tribunal
The electrician's harassment claim was successful.
The tribunal found that the language used by the supervisor was unwanted and went beyond the usual 'industrial language' of the shop floor by remarking on the electrician's personal appearance.
It further found that the comment purposely violated his dignity and created an intimidating, hostile or degrading environment for him.
The main question that the tribunal had was whether the comment related to a relevant protected characteristic.
To answer this question, it drew an analogy to another case where a manager's comment on the size of a woman's breasts was found to be sex-related harassment.
In that case, it was found that the comments were highly likely to relate to her gender.
Similarly, the tribunal said that because baldness is more likely to affect men than women, calling the electrician 'bald' did amount to harassment as it related to his sex.
The level of compensation the firm will have to pay hasn't yet been decided.
What this means for you
This case is a reminder to be aware of the dangers of workplace 'banter'.
Unwanted comments about a person's appearance (related to a protected characteristic) could be considered harassment.
These comments don't specifically have to target a protected characteristic to be considered harassment under the Equality Act, they only have to relate to one.
You have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to stop harassment from taking place and to create a safe working environment at your business.
You can do this by implementing an anti-harassment policy that outlines the consequences of commenting on personal appearances and informs employees that you won't tolerate such behaviour.
You can use the Harassment Policy in our Employee Handbook for this purpose.