Hong Kong courts

Domestic helper from Philippines sues Hong Kong employer after accusing them of pressuring her to quit when she became pregnant

New mother claiming HK$197,000 for distress and loss of earnings over incident in which boss reportedly called her ‘horrible’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2018, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2018, 7:41pm

A Filipino domestic helper has sued her Hong Kong employer for HK$197,000 after claiming she was pressured to resign because she fell pregnant.

Caling Pia Karen Sanchez, 37, said in a writ filed in District Court on Friday that Chan Hing-man called her “horrible” when she learned about the pregnancy last year.

Chan reportedly accused Sanchez of conspiring with her boyfriend to get pregnant, and told Sanchez’s mother the helper would have to pay a hospital fee of HK$50,000 to bring her newborn home if she gave birth in Hong Kong.

The helper’s pregnancy was confirmed on April 2 last year, and she was admitted to hospital seven days later after showing symptoms of a miscarriage. That was when Chan first discovered her helper was expecting.

On April 19, when Sanchez refused to resign, Chan’s husband gave her “a look of disapproval”, according to court documents.

Sanchez said she had intended to complete her contract, which was due to run until October 20, 2017, but felt that she had “no alternative but to resign”, given Chan’s continued pressure on her to do so.

Goodbye debt: helping domestic helpers escape modern slavery in Hong Kong

The helper said she then helplessly followed her employer’s instructions to film a video, stating she would fly home on June 14.

Her last day of work in the Chan household was May 31, and she later gave birth to a son at Pamela Youde Eastern Hospital in Hong Kong on September 18. Court documents did not detail what Sanchez was doing in the intervening months.

She is now demanding HK$197,035 in damages for injury to feelings, medical expenses and loss of income from June 1 to October 20.

The city’s Sex Discrimination Ordinance protects all women, including those working as foreign domestic helpers, from pregnancy discrimination. All working mothers are entitled to 10 weeks’ paid maternity leave.

Sanchez’s lawyer Man Sui-lun, a legal counsel for the Equal Opportunities Commission, said the allegations surrounding Chan’s behaviour towards her employee amounted to direct pregnancy discrimination.

Sanchez said she felt distressed because she had suddenly lost her ability to support her family in the Philippines, and the distress was aggravated by her need to cover medical expenses for the child.

Domestic helpers on the march to demand better living and working conditions

“The claimant felt betrayed and upset by the discriminatory and unfair treatment from the respondent,” the writ stated. “The claimant lost a job at which she was competent, and from which she was able to derive work satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment.”

Employment-related pregnancy discrimination remains one of the most frequently received complaints under the ordinance, according to the EOC.

Two hundred such complaints have been received from 2015 to 2017, representing 38 per cent of the total complaints received under the ordinance.