A supervisor repeatedly asking a worker with an intellectual disability why she is so 'slow' and whether a 'rocket booster' is needed to raise her IQ would be deemed disability harassment, the Equal Opportunities Commission says. Launching a public consultation yesterday on a revised code of practice for dealing with disabled people in the workplace, the commission's chairman, Lam Woon-kwong, gave some examples of such harassment. 'In the case of that supervisor, even though he claimed that the worker was not offended by his comments because she showed no objection, his conduct could constitute disability harassment, since a reasonable person would have found his behaviour offensive to the worker,' Lam said. What many considered a 'non-offensive joke' might hurt a person with a disability severely, he said. 'It is, of course, OK to make a joke, but there is always a bottom line. Even with able-bodied persons, people should bear in mind the word 'respect' when telling a joke,' Lam said. 'Some insulting words people should not use to anyone, no matter whether the receiver is a person with disabilities or not.' The commission chief said Hong Kong was way behind other developed economies in preventing discrimination against disabled people in the workplace. 'I knew that the job of fighting against discrimination was not easy before I assumed the post, but it is really harder than I could have ever imagined,' Lam, who became chairman in January, said. 'The EOC will continue trying to improve the situation even if the road ahead is long and rough.' Lam said disability discrimination occurred mainly in workplaces and was mostly against chronically ill people and pregnant women. In the first two months of this year, the commission handled 215 complaints of disability discrimination. Last year, it dealt with 660 such complaints, compared with 592 in 2008 and 601 in 2007. Lam said it was time to revise the code, which was published in 1997. 'Throughout the years, relevant facts from complaints and case law have revealed better practices in human resources management,' including sick leave management and dealing with work injuries, he said. The revised code provided practical guidance on how to prevent disability discrimination, harassment and vilification in the workplace, Lam said. Public consultation on the code will end on July 8. The commission hopes it will come into effect at the end of this year after it is tabled in the Legislative Council. Cheung Kin-fai, chairman of Rehabilitation Alliance Hong Kong, said the commission spoke with the group when drafting the code. 'I cannot comment on the revised code now, since I need some time to study it,' he said. 'But I very much agree with Lam that discrimination against people with disabilities is still very serious in the city.' Cheung said the public's awareness of disability discrimination had risen but that did not mean there was less discrimination. 'Such a problem can be seen obviously in the employment relationship. Employers just become smarter when firing a worker,' he said. 'They now will list out tonnes of reasons when sacking a person with a disability and avoid saying what is actually on their minds. 'The jobless rate of people with disabilities is three to four times that of ordinary people. The salary and job environment are far worse than for others.' Cheung would like to see a tribunal set up to deal exclusively with discrimination cases, to enhance access to the adjudication system. Lam said yesterday the commission would urge the government to consider setting up such a tribunal, which would be similar to the Lands Tribunal and Labour Tribunal, so that claimants would not need to follow technical rules on pleadings and other formalities of the ordinary civil litigation system. At present, legal proceedings in discrimination cases are dealt with in the District Court under the same litigation rules as for other civil cases. Examples of actions considered discriminatory against the disabled A shop sales supervisor is transferred from shop to office duties after spraining her ankle at work several times in a three-year period. The employer says the transfer is for her well-being in that there is less chance of her suffering injury again if she works in an office. Her basic salary is unchanged, but she loses out on sales commissions. The supervisor opposes the change of duties. The commission considers her transfer detrimental. An employer stipulates that employees must be 'active and energetic', although the job itself is a sedentary one. The commission considers the requirement irrelevant and potentially discriminatory, since it could exclude people whose disabilities restrict their mobility. A worker suffering from kidney disease that requires regular medical treatment outside normal working hours is sacked because he cannot work overtime. The company says all staff are required to perform overtime. The commission considers the company has indirectly discriminated against the employee unless it can justify requiring all staff to perform overtime.