Equal Opportunities Commission


Press Releases

Press Releases

The EOC Releases Findings of the Study on Family Status Discrimination in the Workplace in Hong Kong


The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has released the findings of the “Study on Family Status Discrimination in the Workplace in Hong Kong” today (22 August 2018), which show there is a lack of knowledge about family status discrimination and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO) among both employers and employees in Hong Kong. The study also reveals an understated number of discrimination cases, with employees taking leave to care for their families facing particular resistance.
A mixed-methods research design was adopted in this survey to collect both quantitative and qualitative data from employers and employees including territory-wide telephone surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews and a semi-experimental explorative survey of selected employers.
Professor Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming, Chairperson of the EOC, said: “The survey revealed that employers were found to have less knowledge about family status discrimination, while Hong Kong born and more educated employees tended to be more familiar with the issue. Larger companies (with at least 50 employees) that offer regular anti-discrimination training workshops and institutionalise anti-discrimination policies are more tolerant of employees with family caring responsibilities and see them as bringing fewer negative effects. But smaller enterprises, as well as enterprises with longer histories of operation, are more willing to make changes in policies (such as flexible working time and more paid leave) in the future to accommodate the needs of their employees.”
“Overall, 7.8 per cent of employees with family caring responsibilities reported being discriminated against on the grounds of family status in the past two years (15.0 per cent in hiring, 13.5 per cent when resigning, and 7.8 per cent during employment), particularly in labour intensive industries like Import/Export, Wholesale and Retail, and Accommodation and Food Services, and in non-managerial-and-professional jobs. Most of them were female, less educated, and received no support for their home care responsibilities. In the hiring process, both employers and employees in all industries and company types reported the practice of collecting information related to family caring responsibilities during interviews, with some respondents saying they felt their rejection was based on this information.”
On the other hand, employers reported no incidents of family status discrimination. The semi-experimental explorative survey of selected employers compares employers’ preference of six categories of job applicants: men without caring responsibilities, women without caring responsibilities, fathers caring for young children, mothers caring for young children, men caring for ageing parents, and women caring for ageing parents. When examined across different industries, in companies of different employment sizes and in different job categories, the results show that female applicants caring for ageing parents are tolerated only in entry-level jobs.
Both employers and employees agree that family leave is one of the main reasons when it comes to family status discrimination. Employers are mainly concerned about the lack of resources and failure to meet deadlines; while employees often understand the caring needs of colleagues but worry about the extra workload and troubles. On average, employees said they are taking one to two days off per month for family caring responsibilities, and employers reported that they would allow four to five days maximum.
Dr Ferrick CHU Chung-man, Director of Policy, Research and Training of the EOC said at the press conference, “Only very few complaint cases were reported by the employees since many found it unnecessary to report or did not know how to appeal. In that sense, family status discrimination was very much a ‘hidden’ discrimination in the workplace in Hong Kong. Workplace equality isn't something that is nice to have, but is indeed our right and a legal requirement. Under the FSDO, no one should be discriminated against based on their family status. The EOC will step up our publicity and promotional efforts to inform our community about their rights and actions they can take when facing discrimination.”
Dr CHU remarked, “A ‘motherhood penalty’ is also a serious problem in Hong Kong and family status discrimination is often interwoven with sex discrimination. It is noteworthy that working mothers are not in favour of family leave policies because they reinforce the stereotypes that mothers cannot focus on career development. To better assist them in balancing work and family needs, while high-quality and affordable day-care centers and after-school care programs are more desirable directions, more advocacy for men’s participation in family domain would be a viable option.”
“Paid family leave can also be a plausible policy direction to address family status discrimination and to relieve the stress of family caregivers in the labour force and create more friendly workplaces, but careful design, implementation, and supervision are needed. The government needs to allocate more resources (such as financial subsidies) to enterprises to assist them in the implementation of family leave policies. Flexibilities and the option of individual-based negotiations should be allowed for SMEs, to create better relationships between employers and employees with family caring responsibilities,” he elaborated.
To conclude, Dr CHU said, “It is suggested that more resources should be allocated to organize educational and training activities to promote the knowledge and awareness of the FSDO for both employees and employers, so that the basic definition of family status discrimination is clear and real life examples are explained. These programs are particularly crucial for SMEs and new-immigrant female employees of lower educational level. Everyone deserves a discrimination-free workplace and it cannot be achieved without our collaborative efforts.”
Equal Opportunities Commission
22 August 2018