People feel workplace discrimination is a problem in Hong Kong, surveys show FOR A SOCIETY which prides itself on its adaptability and willingness to change, Hong Kong still retains some fairly ingrained attitudes about gender stereotypes and roles in the workplace. Anyone doubting this need only refer to various surveys carried out in recent years by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which examined public perceptions about gender discrimination. These revealed that respondents felt there were still many instances of inequality in the workplace. Although the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) cannot deal with people's attitudes or motives with regard to gender discrimination, it does deal with their actions and any detrimental effects which result. The most common types of complaint handled by the EOC in this area relate to dismissal, unequal treatment and recruitment practices in employment. Recent examples illustrate the range of issues that can be involved. In one case, the wife of the managing director of a small company demanded the dismissal of a female employee who had been promoted. The wife, who also happened to be a co-director, believed no woman was suitable to hold a managerial position in the firm. Because the dismissal was clearly unlawful, the employer agreed to settle by paying about six months' salary to the complainant. In another, the only female security guard among 10 male colleagues was transferred to work in a different industrial building. As a result, she had to spend more time and money travelling to work. After asking around, she found that an owner of her former workplace objected to women working as security guards and had instigated the transfer. The decision was discriminatory on the grounds of sex and the person who made it was liable under the law. In the end, the employee was reinstated in her original job. Many cases of discrimination still occur during recruitment. For instance, one company placed a job advertisement for a property officer but then interviewed only male candidates. Here, also, the action was unlawful. A female applicant complained and, with the help of the EOC, obtained an interview. The SDO makes it clear that an employer should use objective selection criteria in recruitment and should not dismiss a person due to gender. It also addresses the possibility of indirect discrimination where the same treatment is ostensibly applied to both sexes, but in practice conditions allow for discrimination. An example is if a job advertisement indicates a certain height or weight requirement. This could deliberately exclude a large number of female applicants. To show there is no indirect discrimination, an employer would need to provide justification for such a requirement. A common perception may be that such cases only affect women, but the relevant legislation applies equally to men. If any person is treated less favourably because of their sex and believes that this has been detrimental, it is possible to lodge a complaint with the EOC. The respondent will be notified of the details and given an opportunity to reply to the allegation and supply information to support their actions or viewpoint. Information may include e-mail correspondence, witness statements, letters, staff appraisal records, and the terms and conditions set out in a contract of employment. The EOC's main aim is to resolve gender discrimination cases through conciliation. However, nothing prevents the complainant initiating legal proceedings if they do not wish to go through conciliation. The complainant can ask the EOC for assistance in contemplation of legal action, although granting such assistance depends on many factors - including the strength of the available evidence and if the case is expected to raise a question of principle or is unusually complex. The EOC's general advice is that employers should adopt a consistent set of selection and assessment criteria in employment to avoid the possibility of acting unlawfully. These criteria should include a candidate's education, experience, abilities, knowledge and skills. Not only is this regarded as good management policy, it will also promote overall fairness and limit the likelihood of bias or perception of bias in the workplace. Facts and Figures Between 2002 and last year the EOC received 887 employment-related complaints under the SDO, of which 155 related to gender discrimination.