Yesterday, I read many headlines, like this one in The Guardian: “Calling a man ‘bald’ is sex-related harassment, employment tribunal rules.”
Is it, though? Let’s take a closer look.
First off, let’s dispense with a giant disclaimer. This decision is from an English Employment Tribunal, an independent tribunal that makes decisions in legal disputes around employment law, which adjudicated a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010. I know less about English employment law than I do about cricket and rugby combined.
But, since I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, and I just ordered one of those barrister wigs on eBay, let’s give it a go, shall we?
According to the Equality Act 2010, it’s unlawful:
✅ to engage in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic (of which sex is one of them), and
✅ the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for the victim.
So, how does calling a man bald check either of these boxes?
According to Merriam-Webster, bald means “lacking a natural or usual covering,” as in a bald head. But there’s nothing derogatory about calling someone bald.
Perhaps, it’s a British thing. Like bollocks or wanker or something. So, let’s see how the Cambridge Dictionary defines “bald.” It says here that bald means “with little or no hair on the head.” That, too, sounds rather matter of fact to me.
So, why would calling someone bald be considered sex-related harassment? I will search for the word “bald” in the English Employment Tribunal’s decision and see what I find.
The claimant alleges that one of the respondents referred to him as a “bald c**t.”
Methinks that does change things a bit. What say you, English Employment Tribunal?
“We have little doubt that being referred to in this pejorative manner was unwanted conduct as far as the claimant was concerned. This is strong language. Although, as we find, industrial language was commonplace on this West Yorkshire factory floor, in our judgment [respondent] crossed the line by making remarks personal to the claimant about his appearance. The conduct was therefore unwanted…It is difficult to conclude other than that [respondent] uttered those words with the purpose of violating the claimant’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.”
But wait a minute! Women can be bald too. Why then is baldness associated with sex? Here’s what the Tribunal said:
In our judgment, there is a connection between the word “bald” on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other. [Respondents’ counsel] was right to submit that women as well as men may be bald. However, as all three members of the Tribunal will vouchsafe, baldness is much more prevalent in men than women. We find it to be inherently related to sex.
So, there you have it. Baldness may be inherently related to sex. But is it harassment? Not on its own. (The same is true here in the U.S.) Just don’t go on a business trip to London and call one of your male British co-workers a bald c**t.
Better yet, don’t call anyone a c**t, at home or abroad.