Tribunal rules calling man ‘bald’ is harassment

An employment tribunal has ruled that calling a man ‘bald’ is sex-related harassment. Tony Finn, a former employee at a West Yorkshire manufacturing firm, claimed that his supervisor insulted his baldness during a shopfloor argument. He’s now in line to receive compensation.

We know that personalities clash. Some people are outspoken and blunt, others are quiet and sensitive. What one person thinks is ‘banter’ might be hurtful to someone else. So, where do we draw the line? You can tell when workplace banter becomes bullying when…

Remarks cause offence
The key way to know if banter has gone too far is if it causes offence. Being the butt of someone’s joke can be an upsetting and isolating experience. So, it’s important to be mindful of how comments, even with non-malicious intentions, can hurt someone’s feelings. It’s best to think of it like this. Would you find it uncomfortable to explain the joke if someone called you out on it? Then, you probably shouldn’t say it.

Be conscious of your staff making inappropriate comments. Call them out if you hear something offensive. A workplace culture like this can easily breed harassment claims. So, you should lead by example and let staff know that you won’t tolerate bullying or offensive comments.

Remarks are about protected characteristics
If staff make jokes that relate to someone’s age, sex, race, religion, sexuality, or disability, this puts themselves and your company at legal risk. The Equality Act 2010 protects these characteristics. So, if someone feels they’re treated unfairly because of one or more of these, they have legal grounds to claim for discrimination. In Mr Finn’s case, the judges ruled that the comment relating to his ‘baldness’ was sex-related harassment as baldness was more common in men. So, any comment about someone’s personal appearance can carry legal risk.

You can reduce this risk by having a clear policy on equality and diversity in the workplace. In your policy, condemn comments of this nature and outline your zero-tolerance for bullying and harassment. You should also be clear about the consequences of breaking the policy.

Staff are making allegations
The clearest sign that banter has gone too far is if staff are reporting incidents. Whomever they tell you need to investigate every claim. If it goes to tribunal, you’ll need to be able to show that you followed the correct process to keep staff safe. If you don’t, you could put yourself at legal risk.

Need to investigate a bullying claim?
If employees are reporting incidents of bullying, you need to act. Grievance and harassment investigations are uncomfortable, especially when you know those involved. You might worry about making a mistake, missing a step in a procedure, or remaining impartial.

So, eliminate the worry and risk by letting ourHRpeople experts handle it for you. I will visit your workplace and have those tough conversations on your behalf, whilst making sure you stay in line with employment law guidance.

Further Information
For further guidance on this topic please contact us by email or call to speak to me.

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