If and when the amendment is passed, the possible terms for sexual harassment by a client could be a written or verbal apology, a transfer or re-employment of the employee, and financial compensation. With a law in place, employees may request that companies draw up better equality policies and guidelines against sexual harassment.
However, an amendment should not be seen as a “cure-all” for the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Even with the existing law protecting customers from sexual harassment against service providers, the EOC has received a total of 33 related complaints over the past five years. After investigation, 22 cases were dropped, one was resolved and conciliation was achieved in six cases. In the four cases where conciliation was unsuccessful, the complainants had the option of filing a civil suit, but this did not happen. In other words, none of the cases have been brought to court.
Women’s groups believe this has as much to do with education and culture as anything else. In “A Survey on Hong Kong Women’s Experience of Sexual Violence 2013” published by the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities, more than half of the interviewees said they did not react when they faced sexual harassment.
Chau, who is in her forties and has worked as a product promoter for 10 years, says she keeps her discomfort to herself when she experiences sexual harassment. She recalls an incident when she was working in a supermarket and her counter was close to the fish stall. When there was a leakage of water from the refrigeration unit, a male member of staff said to the promoters, “You’re gushing from below.”
Chau felt embarrassed and uncomfortable but she did not see a need to complain, “What I mean by unnecessary [to complain] is that I don’t want to blow up the problem,” says Chau.