Equal Opportunities Commission

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Complaints Handling Procedures

Complaints Handling Procedures

A specific function of the EOC is to deal with complaints of discrimination, harassment and vilification under the SDO, the FSDO, the DDO and the RDO. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, harassed or vilified, you may lodge a complaint in writing with the EOC and parties will be encouraged to settle their disputes by conciliation. (However, under the law the EOC may decide not to conduct or to discontinue an investigation if the complaint is lacking in substance, vexatious, or the act complained of is not unlawful, or a period of more than 12 months has elapsed since the alleged act was done.)

Information for Complainant

Role of the Equal Opportunities Commission

The Equal Opportunities Commission ("the EOC") is a statutory body set up to implement the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance and the Race Discrimination Ordinance (collectively "the Ordinances").  The Ordinances render unlawful acts which discriminate against persons on the ground of sex, marital status, pregnancy, breastfeeding, disability, family status or race in prescribed areas of activities; they also render unlawful acts of sexual harassment, harassment on the ground of breastfeeding, harassment and vilification on the ground of disability and race; and empower the EOC to investigate and conciliate complaints relating to any act alleged to be unlawful under the Ordinances.

The EOC is committed to discharging this statutory role in an impartial, fair, just and objective manner.  The EOC assumes an unbiased stance and is not an advocate for either party to the complaint.

For the EOC to deal with a complaint, the alleged unlawful act of the complaint must fall within a provision of the Ordinances.  This means that the complaint must come within the jurisdiction of the EOC.

Lodging a Complaint

A complaint of unlawful acts under the Ordinances must be made to the EOC in writing within 12 months of the alleged acts were done.  The complaint should be made by an aggrieved person or his / her representative and should contain all the relevant details of the alleged unlawful acts. The complaints can be sent to the EOC by mail, fax, through the EOC's online complaint form, or it may be made in person at the EOC Office.

If a complainant has difficulties in preparing a complaint in writing, he / she can contact the EOC office. The EOC will ascertain the complainant's difficulties and, on the basis of information given, consider whether to provide any writing support.
    
The complainant should note that details of the complaint including the name of the complainant, the allegations made and the supporting documents / information will be sent to the respondent.

The complainant has a general responsibility to provide information to support a complaint. When formulating a complaint in writing, the complainant should provide –

  • the complainant's personal details and identity card number
  • information identifying the respondent
  • date(s) when the alleged unlawful act(s) occurred
  • facts of the alleged incident(s)
  • any information in support of the complaint
  • names, contact information and statements of witnesses (if any)
  • loss or harm experienced

The complainant should keep properly the original of the documents / evidence submitted to the EOC.

Investigation of a Complaint

The EOC will conduct an investigation into a complaint that falls within its jurisdiction.  Once a complaint in writing has been successfully lodged, a case officer will be assigned to conduct a preliminary investigation with the complainant to decide whether and how the complaint should be taken forward.  The EOC may write to the complainant seeking further information or clarification of certain points, ask about witnesses or documentary proof that might support the allegations, and where appropriate, notify the respondent of the complaint and request a response for investigation.

Witnesses are protected by victimisation provisions contained in the Ordinances.  The relevant information given by witnesses in support of the complainant's allegations will be put to the respondent for comment, and vice versa for the witnesses' information in support of the respondent's response.  This is to ensure that the parties are given the opportunity of responding to witness evidence.

The EOC will conduct the investigation in an objective manner and will act impartially in all complaints.  Impartiality does not mean merely being neutral, nor does it mean being disengaged from the process.  Due consideration is given to natural justice, parties' right and obligation under the law, respecting the right to rebut and be heard, access to relevant information gathered, procedural fairness and transparency of process, and making known to parties the reasons behind our decisions.

It is the parties' responsibility to maintain contact with the case officer and advise the case officer of changes to their contact details such as correspondence address or telephone number as soon as practicable.

The EOC may decide not to conduct, or to discontinue, an investigation into a complaint if –

  • the EOC is satisfied that the act complained of is not unlawful by virtue of a provision of the Ordinances
  • the EOC is of the opinion that the person aggrieved by the act does not desire (or in the case of a representative complaint, none of the persons aggrieved by the act desires) that the investigation be conducted or continued
  • a period of more than 12 months has elapsed beginning when the act was done
  • the EOC determines, in the case of a representative complaint, that the complaint should not be a representative complaint (in accordance with the relevant rules dealing with representative complaints)
  • the EOC is of the opinion that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance

In the event that the EOC decides not to conduct or to discontinue an investigation into a complaint, the complainant will be advised of the decision and the reason(s) for it in writing.  Unless conciliation or full investigation has taken place, the respondent will generally not be notified of the existence of or any decision in relation to the complaint. 

Investigation Confidentiality

The EOC will use the information and materials obtained in the course of investigation for the handling of the complaint and other related purposes. Relevant information and materials may be provided to the parties and to witnesses for comment if it is conducive to the investigation but will not be disclosed to the public or to persons not connected with the investigation of the complaint.

Parties to the complaint are urged to observe the principle of confidentiality.  Information obtained or exchanged in the course of investigation should not be divulged to the public nor to persons not connected with the complaint, and can only be used for the purposes of the EOC's investigation or any subsequent legal proceedings under the Ordinances. Divulging such information may not be conducive to the investigation and amicable settlement of the matter.

Should the case be brought to court as parties are not able to come to terms in conciliation, information and materials gathered during the investigation could be admissible as evidence in court proceedings.

Conciliation

It is the primary objective of the EOC's complaint handling mechanism to assist parties of a complaint in resolving the matter quickly through conciliation.  Therefore, at the early stage, the EOC may encourage parties concerned to attempt early conciliation if deemed appropriate, to find ways to resolve the dispute quickly without going through the detailed investigation process.  During early conciliation, investigation is suspended and is reverted to if early conciliation is unsuccessful.  Full investigation then follows and further conciliation will be suggested if the EOC sees it fit to do so.  For the purposes of conciliation, the case officer as conciliation officer will not act as an advocate for either party but as a communication facilitator.  The role of the case officer is to assist both parties to examine the issues that led to the complaint, identify any points of agreement and arrive at a solution in an attempt to resolve the complaint.

The advantage of conciliation is its relative speed in comparison with other forms of redress.  It usually involves fewer people and makes it easier to ensure confidentiality.  Conciliation by the EOC is free and therefore there should be little or no cost to the parties to arrive at a settlement. Submission to conciliation by both parties is entirely voluntary, although the EOC does have the power to call a compulsory conciliation conference. However, the EOC cannot compel the parties to reach an agreement.  Nor does the EOC direct the terms of any agreement.  These are negotiable between the parties.

Should a mutual agreement be reached, the terms of the agreement will be reduced to writing and signed by the parties.  The conciliation agreement is binding and conclusive of the parties' agreement.  Settlements are varied and may include an apology, monetary amount or the carrying out of certain actions. The EOC will assist the parties to try and achieve an amicable settlement.

If conciliation is arranged after the full investigation but a settlement cannot be reached, other forms of assistance, including legal assistance, may be available from the EOC to a complainant who applies for it.  The EOC will assess each application individually and provide appropriate assistance or advice to the complainant as it thinks fit.

Conciliation Confidentiality

Any information received in the course of conciliation is confidential and may not be disclosed except with the consent of the person who gave the information.  Any breach of confidentiality may not be conducive to amicable settlement of the matter.  Please note that such information is not admissible as evidence in court proceedings. 

Other Remedies

Under the Ordinances, the complainant may also institute civil proceedings in the District Court.  This can be done as an alternative to lodging a complaint with the EOC.

Please note that under the Ordinances the District Court shall not consider a claim unless proceedings in respect of the claim are instituted before the end of the period of 24 months beginning when the act complained of was done.

Nevertheless, the District Court may consider any claim or application which is out of time if, in all the circumstances of the case, it considers that it is just and equitable to do so.  For the purpose of determining the period within which proceedings may be brought, where an act to which the claim relates was the subject of a complaint lodged to the EOC, then the period that elapsed between the date when the complaint was lodged and the date when the complaint was disposed of shall be disregarded.

Personal Data

All personal data submitted will only be used for the purpose of the EOC carrying out its statutory functions. Data subjects have the right to request access to and correction of their personal data submitted in connection with the complaint.  Any formal request for access and / or correction of personal data under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance should be submitted in writing to the Director (Complaint Services) of the EOC.  The personal data submitted may be transferred to parties who will be involved in the processing of the complaint.  The information provided may also be disclosed to parties relevant to the complaint, or transferred to authorised person(s) including but not limited to agencies relating to law enforcement and professional consultants / agents engaged by the EOC for conducting service improvement research.  For details, please visit the EOC's Personal Information Collection Statement and Privacy Policy Statement on its website (https://www.eoc.org.hk/en/about-the-eoc/eoc-policies/personal-information-collection). 

Information for Respondent

Role of the Equal Opportunities Commission

The Equal Opportunities Commission (“the EOC”) is a statutory body set up to implement the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (“SDO”), the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (“DDO”), the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (“FSDO”) and the Race Discrimination Ordinance (“RDO”) (collectively “the Ordinances”).  The Ordinances render unlawful acts which discriminate against persons on the ground of sex, marital status, pregnancy, breastfeeding, disability, family status or race in prescribed areas of activities; they also render unlawful acts of sexual harassment, harassment on the ground of breastfeeding, harassment and vilification on the ground of disability and race; and empower the EOC to investigate and conciliate complaints relating to any act alleged to be unlawful under the Ordinances.

The EOC is committed to discharging this statutory role in an impartial, fair, just and objective manner.  The EOC assumes an unbiased stance and is not an advocate for either party to the complaint.

For the EOC to deal with a complaint, the alleged unlawful act of the complaint must fall within a provision of the Ordinances.  This means that the complaint must come within the jurisdiction of the EOC.

Once a Complaint is Lodged

The EOC has a statutory duty to investigate all allegations of unlawful acts under the Ordinances, unless they are clearly outside its jurisdiction, and to use its best endeavours to try and settle the complaint by conciliation.

Investigation of a Complaint

The EOC will conduct an investigation into each complaint that falls within its jurisdiction.  The respondent will be notified of the complaint made against him / her in writing by the case officer who has been assigned to conduct the investigation.  Details of the allegations will be provided to the respondent who will be given the opportunity of responding to them and providing information in support of the response.  The response will be provided to the complainant for comments.  In the course of investigation, the case officer may also seek clarification of certain points by parties, ask about witnesses or documentary proof that might support the allegations or the response thereto and contact third parties that can assist in the investigation.

The type of information required to be provided to the EOC by a respondent will depend on the nature of the complaint made.  An example of the type of information which a respondent may offer to the EOC in respect of allegations arising out of employment includes –

  • the respondent’s specific response to the alleged unlawful act(s)
  • performance appraisal reports
  • counselling notes, evidence of warning(s), etc.
  • interview summaries, reports
  • interview questions
  • copy of job advertisement
  • duty statement, list of job criteria
  • equal opportunity policy, sexual harassment policy
  • grievance procedures
  • names, contact information and statements of witnesses (if any)

The respondent should keep properly the original of the documents / evidence submitted to the EOC.

The Ordinances contain a number of exceptions which a respondent may rely on to show that his / her act(s) is / are not unlawful.  It is the responsibility of the respondent to show that an exception applies in his / her case.

Witnesses are protected by victimisation provisions contained in the Ordinances.  The relevant information given by witnesses in support of the respondent’s response will be put to the complainant for comment, and vice versa for the witnesses’ information in support of the complainant’s allegations.  This is to ensure that the parties are given the opportunity of responding to witness evidence.

The EOC will conduct the investigation in an objective manner and will act impartially in all complaints.  Impartiality does not mean merely being neutral, nor does it mean being disengaged from the process.  Due consideration is given to natural justice, parties' right and obligation under the law, respecting the right to rebut and be heard, access to relevant information gathered, procedural fairness and transparency of process, and making known to parties the reasons behind our decisions.

It is the parties' responsibility to maintain contact with the case officer and advise the case officer of changes to their contact details such as correspondence address or telephone number as soon as practicable.

The EOC may decide not to conduct, or to discontinue, an investigation into a complaint if –

  • the EOC is satisfied that the act complained of is not unlawful by virtue of a provision of the Ordinances 
  • the EOC is of the opinion that the person aggrieved by the act does not desire (or in the case of a representative complaint, none of the persons aggrieved by the act desires) that the investigation be conducted or continued
  • a period of more than 12 months has elapsed beginning when the act was done
  • the EOC determines, in the case of a representative complaint, that the complaint should not be a representative complaint (in accordance with the relevant rules dealing with representative complaints)
  • the EOC is of the opinion that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance

In the event that the EOC decides not to conduct or to discontinue an investigation into a complaint, the complainant will be advised of the decision and the reason(s) for it in writing.  Unless conciliation or full investigation has taken place, the respondent will generally not be notified of the existence of or any decision in relation to the complaint. 

SDO/FSDO/DDO/RDO (Investigation and Conciliation) Rules

Under section 5(1) of these Rules, any person may be directed by notice in writing to furnish such information as specified for the purpose of investigation into an act and in endeavouring to settle the matter.  Failure, or refusal, without reasonable excuse to comply with the written notice issued is an offence and may lead to prosecution for which a fine at level 4 (i.e. HK$10,001 to $25,000) may be imposed.

Investigation Confidentiality

The EOC will use the information and materials obtained in the course of investigation for the handling of the complaint and other related purposes. Relevant information and materials may be provided to the parties and to witnesses for comment but will not be disclosed to the public or to persons not connected with the investigation of the complaint.

Parties to the complaint are urged to observe the principle of confidentiality.  Information obtained or exchanged in the course of investigation should not be divulged to the public nor to persons not connected with the complaint, and can only be used for the purposes of the EOC's investigation or any subsequent legal proceedings under the Ordinances.  Divulging such information may not be conducive to the investigation and amicable settlement of the matter.

Should the case be brought to court as parties are not able to come to terms in conciliation, information and materials gathered during the investigation could be admissible as evidence in court proceedings.

Conciliation

It is the primary objective of the EOC's complaint handling mechanism to assist parties of a complaint in resolving the matter quickly through conciliation.  Therefore, at the early stage, the EOC may encourage parties concerned to attempt early conciliation if deemed appropriate, to find ways to resolve the dispute quickly without going through the detailed investigation process.  During early conciliation, investigation is suspended and is reverted to if early conciliation is unsuccessful.  Full investigation then follows and further conciliation will be suggested if the EOC sees it fit to do so.  For the purposes of conciliation, the case officer as conciliation officer will not act as an advocate for either party but as a communication facilitator.  The role of the case officer is to assist both parties to examine the issues that led to the complaint, identify any points of agreement and arrive at a solution in an attempt to resolve the complaint.

The advantage of conciliation is its relative speed in comparison with other forms of redress.  It usually involves fewer people and makes it easier to ensure confidentiality. Conciliation by the EOC is free and therefore there should be little or no cost to the parties to arrive at a settlement.

Submission to conciliation by both parties is entirely voluntary, although the EOC does have the power to call a compulsory conciliation conference.  However, the EOC cannot compel the parties to reach an agreement.  Nor does the EOC direct the terms of any agreement.  These are negotiable between the parties.

Should a mutual agreement be reached, the terms of the agreement will be reduced to writing and signed by the parties.  The conciliation agreement is binding and conclusive of the parties' agreement.  Settlements are varied and may include an apology, monetary amount or the carrying out of certain actions.  The EOC will assist the parties to try and achieve an amicable settlement.

If conciliation is arranged after the full investigation but a settlement cannot be reached, other forms of assistance, including legal assistance, may be available from the EOC to a complainant who applies for it.  The EOC will assess each application individually and provide appropriate assistance or advice to the complainant as it thinks fit.

Conciliation Confidentiality

Any information received in the course of conciliation is confidential and may not be disclosed except with the consent of the person who gave the information.  Any breach of confidentiality may not be conducive to amicable settlement of the matter.  Please note that such information is not admissible as evidence in court proceedings.

Other Remedies

Under the Ordinances, the complainant may also institute civil proceedings in the District Court within 24 months of the alleged act was done.  This can be done as an alternative to lodging a complaint with the EOC.

Personal Data

All personal data submitted will only be used for the purpose of the EOC carrying out its statutory functions.  Data subjects have the right to request access to and correction of their personal data submitted in connection with the complaint.  Any formal request for access and / or correction of personal data under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance should be submitted in writing to the Director (Complaint Services) of the EOC.  The personal data submitted may be transferred to parties who will be involved in the processing of the complaint.  The information provided may also be disclosed to parties relevant to the complaint, or transferred to authorised person(s) including but not limited to agencies relating to law enforcement and professional consultants / agents engaged by the EOC for conducting service improvement research.  For details, please visit the EOC’s Personal Information Collection Statement and Privacy Policy Statement on its website (https://www.eoc.org.hk/en/about-the-eoc/eoc-policies/personal-information-collection). 

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