The EOC Gives Legal Assistance in Sexual Harassment Case
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has issued today (29 July 2015) legal proceedings in the District Court under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), Cap. 480, on behalf of a woman (the “Claimant”) against her former employer (the “Respondent”) for being vicariously liable for the unlawful sexual harassment acts committed by the Respondent’s employee, and for victimising the Claimant because of her sexual harassment complaint.
According to the Claimant, the Respondent did not take any action upon her filing a complaint of sexual harassment by her supervisor, even though she had witness to support her case. From the information available, there was no guidance on the prevention of sexual harassment, no related training for staff, and no complaint-handling mechanism maintained by the Respondent. Later on, upon the expiry of the Claimant’s employment contract, the Respondent stipulated that unless the Claimant was willing to move to a remote work location, her contract would not be renewed. Owing to her childcare responsibilities, the Claimant declined the transfer and had no choice but to terminate her employment with the Respondent. However, all her colleagues were offered new contracts without the need for transfer.
Under the SDO, sexual harassment is defined as conducts of a sexual nature, in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the victim would be offended, humiliated and intimidated. Sexual harassment can also refer to any conduct of a sexual nature which creates a hostile or intimidating environment for someone. Section 46(3) of the SDO provides that an employer would be vicariously liable for the unlawful acts committed by its employees, unless the employer can show that it has already taken reasonably practicable steps to prevent its employees from doing the acts. It is also unlawful under Section 9 of the Ordinance to victimise a person, by treating him/her less favourably because he/she has lodged a complaint or brought proceedings under the Ordinance.
Sexual harassment remains prevalent in the workplace. In 2014, the EOC conducted a “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination – Questionnaire Survey for Workers of Service Industries”, which showed that almost one in every five (19%) respondents had been sexually harassed while at work in the 12 months preceding the study. By taking this case to the Court, the EOC hopes to raise public awareness about the importance of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. It is especially vital for employers and human resource practitioners to be vigilant against such acts, and provide a safe and harassment-free working environment for their employees through appropriate policies and practices, so that they can perform their best.
For media enquiries, please contact Mr Sam HO at 2106-2187.
Equal Opportunities Commission
29 July 2015