Family status discrimination under fire in Hong Kong

The territory's Equal Opportunities Commission says employers are still slow to accommodate employees who have to care for family members.
By: | August 27, 2018

A new study from Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) suggests that there is a still a lack of understanding of the territory’s Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO), which was passed more than 20 years ago.

Per the FSDO, a person’s “family status” refers to their responsibility to care for a family member – such as a parent, spouse, or child.

The study involved more than 1,000 employees and some 436 employers, with results collected in several ways: phone polls, focus groups, in-depth interviews, and a survey.

The study suggests an understated number of discrimination cases, with employees taking leave to care for their families facing particular resistance:

  • Some 7.8% of employees with family caring responsibilities reported being discriminated against on the grounds of family status in the past two years
  • Such discrimination was particularly pronounced in labour intensive industries like Import/Export, Wholesale and Retail, and Accommodation and Food Services, and in non-managerial-and-professional jobs.
  • Most of victims were female, less educated, and received no support for their home care responsibilities.
  • In the hiring process, both employers and employees in all industries and company types reported the practice of collecting information related to family caring responsibilities during interviews, with some respondents saying they felt their rejection was based on this information

As part of the study, a semi-experimental explorative survey of selected employers had employers rank their preferences of job applicants. The results are surprising, but perhaps unexpected – men without caring responsibilities were most preferred, followed by women without caring responsibilities, fathers caring for young children, mothers caring for young children, men caring for ageing parents, and women caring for ageing parents.

In fact, female applicants caring for ageing parents seem tobe tolerated only in entry-level jobs.

Both employers and employees agreed that family leave was one of the main reasons for  family status discrimination. Employers are mainly concerned about the lack of resources and failure to meet deadlines; while employees often understand the caring needs of colleagues but worry about the extra workload and troubles.

“Paid family leave can be a plausible policy direction to address family status discrimination and to relieve the stress of family caregivers in the labour force and create more friendly workplaces, but careful design, implementation, and supervision are needed,” said Dr Ferrick Chu, Director of Policy, Research and Training of the EOC.

“The government needs to allocate more resources (such as financial subsidies) to enterprises to assist them in the implementation of family leave policies. Flexibilities and the option of individual-based negotiations should be allowed for SMEs, to create better relationships between employers and employees with family caring responsibilities,” he added.