Global Employer Services News May 2021

Employers and provisions on prohibiting breastfeeding discrimination and harassment

What impacts the employers when the provisions on prohibiting breastfeeding discrimination and harassment under the sex discrimination ordinance come into force?

The Discrimination Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Ordinance 2020 (“Amendment Ordinance”) took effect on 19 June 2020 for the amendments of the three anti-discrimination Ordinances in Hong Kong, namely Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 487)(“DDO”), Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 527) (“FSDO”), and Race Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 602)(“RDO”). Apart from the above three discrimination amendments which are now in force, the amendment bill to further strengthen legal protection for breastfeeding women against discrimination and harassment under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 480) (“SDO”) has just been passed by the Legislative Council on 17 March 2021 and it will take effect from 19 June 2021.

The above amendments which are relevant to workplace, are summarized as follows:

  1. Protection from direct and indirect discrimination and harassment by perception or imputation that a person is of a particular racial group;
  2. Prohibiting harassment on the basis of sex, disability, race (including imputed race and association with a race) will be made illegal in a common workplace, in co-tenanted or sub-tenanted premises, on aircraft, ships and in clubs. This will apply not only to employers, employees, contract workers and co-workers but also to service providers, customers, co-tenants, sub-tenants and club managers; and
  3. Prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination against a woman on the ground of breastfeeding and to render such conduct unlawful.

The most remarkable amendments were made with regards to the SDO, including the addition of section 8A which specifies direct or indirect discrimination and harassment against breastfeeding women in the employment and other sectors, or to victimize them for breastfeeding is unlawful. The definition of "breastfeeding" includes both the act of breastfeeding a child and the expressing of breast milk.

For details, please refer to the “Equality for Breastfeeding Women Guidance for the Employment and Related Sectors" published by the Equal Opportunities Commission at this link. 

Employers are encouraged to obtain a good understanding of the upcoming SDO amendment on breastfeeding equality for women in the employment and other sectors and should prepare to establish and implement the broader anti-discrimination/harassment policies for compliance with the above discrimination amendments, if such policies have not been implemented earlier. Employers are also recommended to provide training programs to employees about the anti-discrimination/harassment policies implemented so as to build a more harmonious work environment for their employees.

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Joseph Hong