Judge Brain finds Comments on Baldness are Sex Harassment
Since 1998 employees in Ireland have been entitled to pursue claims arising from incidents of harassment, not just of a sexual nature, but also arising from their gender, nationality, disability, age and a range of other factors. In that context, our Adrian Twomey looks at the UK Employment Tribunal's recent decision in the case of Finn v The British Bung Manufacturing Company Limited, Case 1803764/2021.
The claimant employee, Mr. Finn, was employed by the company as an electrician from 1997 to 2021. He was dismissed without notice last year some time after an altercation with his supervisor over a machine that was awaiting repair. In the course of the interaction between the two men, the supervisor allegedly called Mr. Finn a "bald c**t" and threatened to "deck" him.
The employee subsequently pursued claims of unfair dismissal, victimisation, harassment based on age and sex amongst others. Those claims are before the UK Employment Tribunal at present.
The Tribunal has, however, already ruled on the issue of whether or not the comments made by the supervisor can be deemed to constitute harassment based on sex.
Employment Judge Brain held that the object of the Act is to proscribe harassment within the workplace. It is much more likely that a person on the receiving end of a remark such as that made by the supervisor would be male. The supervisor made the comment with a view to hurting the claimant by commenting on his appearance, with baldness often being a condition found amongst men. The Tribunal therefore determined that the supervisor's conduct was unwanted, was a violation of the claimant’s dignity, created an intimidating environment for him, was done for that purpose and related to the claimant’s sex.
The Tribunal has yet to make a decision on any compensation that might be payable to the claimant. However, the key take-away for Irish employers is that insults or comments directed towards an employee that pick up on a characteristic related to their gender are likely to constitute harassment.
For more guidance on workplace harassment and discrimination or advice on specific cases please contact our Adrian Twomey.