43% of Companies Have No Sexual Harassment Policies

In a survey conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), 43% of surveyed companies do not have a policy statement on sexual harassment. Among the companies which stated that they have a policy statement, only 55% of them provided details. The rest of them did not give any information about their policy.

Among the companies without a policy statement on sexual harassment, 46% indicated that there was no urgency to formulate a policy statement on sexual harassment and 37% never thought of developing such a policy. Other reasons for not formulating a sexual harassment policy were “sexual harassment has not occurred in the company” (27%), “staff are not trained in formulating such a policy” (24%), and “people may misinterpret that the formulation of a sexual harassment policy is related to the frequent occurrence of sexual harassment in the company” (11%).

Since the companies see no urgency in formulating a policy on sexual harassment, 82% of the companies without a policy statement indicated they would not formulate a sexual harassment policy in the near future.

Convenor of the EOC’s Policy and Research Committee, Dr. John Tse, said, “The results indicated that the company management had low awareness on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO). It is important for employers to develop clear policies on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace and to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent such conducts.”

Ms Virginia Choi, Member of the EOC Working Group on Anti-Sexual Harassment Campaign and former Chairman of Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, said, “The difficult and competitive business environment sometimes makes sexual harassment policy a low priority, which is understandable but not desirable. I hope that both the EOC and the various professional and business associations can offer help for the private companies in this area, in particular the SMEs.”

“On the other hand, I am confident that employers can do more than mere compliance with the legal requirements. Through the formulation of an effective sexual harassment policy and the adoption of preventive measures, the employers can provide a safe, productive and harassment-free working environment for their staff, which creates a win-win situation,” Ms. Choi added.

The Survey revealed that 28 respondents received one to two sexual harassment complaints in 2012. In respect of sexual harassment complaints received by the responding companies, 58% were physical in nature and 53% were verbal in nature. Other forms of sexual harassment included non-verbal sex cues (26%), hostile work environment (11%) and cyber harassment (5%). In terms of complaints handling, 90% of the companies undertook internal investigation and/or administered punitive measures to the harasser(s).

In 2012, the EOC handled a total of 316 employment-related complaint cases under the SDO, of which 37% were related to sexual harassment.

“An effective sexual harassment policy can limit harm and reduce liability. It also promotes the equity and diversity goals of organizations and institutions and makes good business sense,” Dr. Tse reiterated.

“Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. The EOC plans to engage some of the relevant stakeholders of the business sector to launch a ‘Business Against Sexual Harassment’ (BASH) Campaign. The EOC will also consider offering training courses in the form of continuing professional development and setting up an award scheme to recognize companies with a comprehensive sexual harassment policy,” added Dr. Tse.

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