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Harassment in Hong Kong

Harassment is any unwanted physical or verbal conduct designed to make a person feel unwelcome, offended, humiliated and/or intimidated[i].  It can take many forms, such as threats, intimidation, or verbal abuse; unwelcome remarks or jokes about subjects like your race, religion, disability or age; displaying sexist, racist or other offensive pictures or posters; sexually suggestive remarks or gestures; unnecessary physical contact, such as touching, patting, pinching or punching; physical assault, including sexual assault[ii].  It will be considered to have taken place if a reasonable person ought to have known that the behavior was unwelcome.  However it is always argued that it is vague and difficult to define a harassment action due to different cultures from individuals.

Harassment is a type of discrimination.  Therefore, harassment can create a negative or hostile work environment, which can interfere with one・s performance and result in being refused a job, a promotion or a training opportunity[iii].  The harasser, who could be of the same or opposite sex as the person harassed, may be a supervisor, a co-worker, or someone providing you with a service.  This can be happened in the workplace or somewhere related to work.

Hong Kong has started late in enforcing anti-harassment efforts in the community.  The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is a statutory body set up in 1996 to implement the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance and the Family Status Disability Discrimination Ordinance.  The vision is to create, with the support of the community, an environment where there is no barrier to equal opportunities and no discrimination[iv].  They also aim in eliminate sexual harassment, and harassment and vilification on the ground of disability[v], while the other types of harassment are neglected.  Some developed countries have clearly defined and covered a wide range of harassment types.  For example, the Canadian Human Rights Commission accepts harassment complaints based on 11 grounds: race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, sex, marital status, family status, mental or physical disability, pardoned conviction, and sexual orientation[vi].

Harassment is one of those really tough business issues in Hong Kong because it is a social issue for long that has not been resolved.  Although publicity campaigns were mounted through various media including television, radio and newspaper advertisements etc, most people are still blur on the term of harassment.  The writer・s recent telephone research on the subject (appendix 1 and 2) has found that only 20 percent of interviewed employees can clearly tell the function of EOC.  40 percent know what is harassment but only limited to sexual harassment and most of them were learnt from American movie named :Disclosure;.  4 percent of their organizations has offered education on the subject.  80 percent have faced with workplace harassment personally or knowing somebody else.  Only 10 percent will seek for help or file a complaint if they face with harassment in workplace.  It is because Chinese is still very conservative in raising up such issues especially when request of any law action.  This is really a surprising figure that public・s weak awareness of harassment in Hong Kong organizations.

Harassment is a new area of law in Hong Kong, the application in the employment field is particularly complex.  Therefore efforts should have to be elaborated in more in-depth forms of education in organizations such as seminars and training modules, as well as from youngster of school curriculum.  Special consideration should also take into account in designing public education campaigns, which appeal to the emotional nature of attitudes through experiential learning and personal exposure.  Organization management should also know their responsibility to provide a harassment-free environment for employees since it directly affects morale, production and profitability[vii].  Joint co-operation education between the EOC and the organizations is also required to provide guidance on the procedures and systems that can help the employees to prevent harassment and to deal with unlawful acts in the employment.

As a conclusion, harassment adds no value to a business.  To the contrary, when employees feel harassed, we lose the talent they otherwise would bring to our workplaces and, ultimately, business suffers.  :Legislation is important because you need something to fall back on but the most important part is that attitudes change,; said by Andrew Webster, human resource director of Marks & Spencer[viii].  It points out that prevention and correction makes good business sense and therefore the education should focus on behavior that employees must avoid and emphasize respect for every individual[ix]


[i] Raymond J Stone 1998, Human Resource Management, 3rd edition, Jacaranda Wiley Ltd, p 717.

[ii] .Harassment-what is it, and what to do about it・ 1998, Canadian Human Rights Commission, [Online, accessed 30 December 1998].  URL:

[iii] .Harassment-what it is, and what to do about it・ 1998, Canadian Human Rights Commission, [Online, accessed 30 December 1998].  URL:

[iv] .Vision and Mission・ 1996, Equal Opportunities Commission Hong Kong, [Online, accessed 7 December 1998].  URL:

[v] .About our commission・ 1996, Equal Opportunities Commission Hong Kong, [Online, accessed 7 December 1998].  URL:

[vi] .Harassment-what it is, and what to do about it・ 1998, Canadian Human Rights Commission, [Online, accessed 30 December 1998].  URL:

[vii] Jack Deal 1997, .Harassment・, Deal Consulting, [Online, accessed 30 December 1998]. URL:

[viii] Neil Art 1998, .Bill on racial discrimination should be the next stage・, South China Morning Post Classified, 23 November, p 4.

[ix] .Antiharassment Policy・ 1998, [Online, accessed 30 December 1998]. URL:

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