Launch of Anti-Sexual Harassment Hotline
With the widespread development of the #MeToo movement and additional funding from the Government, the Equal Opportunities Commission (“EOC“) established the Anti-Sexual Harassment Unit (“ASHU“) in November 2020 to strengthen efforts in combating sexual harassment through prevention, research, policy advocacy, policy guidance and training.
On 25 January 2021, the EOC announced the launch of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Hotline (the “Hotline“) operated by the ASHU, the goal of which is to provide a first port of call service to the public with information on provisions of the law, advice on where to lodge complaints of sexual harassment and seek redress, and referral to counselling and therapy services.
The introduction of the Hotline is a clear indication of the Government’s increasing emphasis on combatting sexual harassment in the workplace. As such, it is vital for employers to take all reasonable actions in line with the government’s initiative.
Employers should review, and where necessary, revise their internal policies and handbooks to ensure that adequate anti-harassment policies are in place to both prevent and handle sexual harassment in the workplace. Such policies should be extended to protect non-employees, such as independent contractors (e.g. consultants or workers on secondment), interns and volunteers. Regular training should be conducted on the policy to ensure that both management personnel and employees are well informed of the company’s anti-harassment policy, and are aware of the internal complaint-lodging platforms and investigation procedures. Moreover, employers should handle with caution when imposing appropriate disciplinary sanctions (such as suspension or summary dismissal) against an employee under investigation or found responsible for harassment to ensure that any such sanctions are imposed in accordance with the law. Other legal issues that employers should also be aware of include the proper collection and handling of personal data during the course of an investigation in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, as well as the safeguarding of the confidentiality and anonymity of the parties involved.
Sexual harassment complaints expose employers to potential legal claims, and may also have serious implications on an employer’s reputation, company culture as well as morale. Employers should therefore ensure that sexual harassment complaints are promptly and properly handled with a proactive approach.