Broader protection from discrimination and harassment on the horizon

The Discrimination Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2018 (Bill) was gazetted on 30 November 2018. The Bill seeks to enhance protection against discrimination and harassment by amending Hong Kong’s four anti-discrimination ordinances, namely the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO), and the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO), pursuant to the eight recommendations of priority made by the Equal Opportunities Commission in its Report on the Discrimination Law Review.

The proposed amendments made by the Bill include the following:

  1. to introduce express provisions in the SDO prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of breastfeeding, and to include expression of milk in the definition of breastfeeding;

  2. to replace the references to "near relative" in the RDO with references to "associate" so that it is unlawful to discriminate or harass a person on the grounds of the race of an associate of the person;

  3. to expand the meanings of “race” and “racial group” under the RDO to include a race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin that is imputed to a person so as to provide protection from direct and indirect racial discrimination and harassment by imputation;

  4. to expand the scope of protection from sexual, disability and racial harassment between persons working in a common workplace under the SDO, DDO and RDO;

  5. to amend the DDO and RDO so as to protect service providers from disability and racial harassment by customers;

  6. to provide protection from disability and racial harassment between service providers and customers where the acts of harassment are committed on local ships or aircraft outside Hong Kong in the DDO and RDO;

  7. to protect members or applicants for membership of a club from harassment by the management of the club under the SDO and DDO; and

  8. to amend the SDO, FSDO and RDO to remove the intention requirement for an award of damages in claims in respect of an act of indirect discrimination.

The First Reading of the Bill and the commencement of Second Reading Debate took place on 12 December 2018.  Should the Bill be passed, the said amendments will have implications for gender, family, productivity and economics, as suggested by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. For example, the proposed amendments would encourage breastfeeding women to stay in the work force while fulfilling their parental obligations through breastfeeding, thereby reducing the turnover of female employees and sustaining Hong Kong’s economic vitality. Employers are reminded to make adjustments accordingly to ensure compliance with this policy change.