- The Law Society is committed to maintaining a work environment which provides equality of opportunity and which is free of any discrimination and harassment.Everyone has the right to be respected and be equally respected.
- Sexual harassment at work is discriminatory and unlawful and will not be tolerated. All workplace participants (as defined in the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Cap 480) have a duty and responsibility towards creating and maintaining a work environment in which the dignity of employees is respected and in ensuring that sexual harassment does not occur.
- Sexual harassment may entail civil liability and even criminal consequences. Sexual harassment means a person makes an unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature to another person. The unwelcome conduct includes unwelcome sexual attention, physical contact, talking about issues of a sexual nature, or making a sexual advance. It also amounts to sexual harassment if one finds the work environment sexually hostile making one feel intimidated. Examples include display of offensive or pornographic information, inappropriate touching etc.
- Relevant legislative provisions in the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 480) include sections 2(5), 2(7), 2(8), 23, 23A, 39, 39A and 40.
Objectives of the policy
- The objectives of the policy are to:
- ensure all employees (including prospective employees and persons who sought for employment) and other workplace participants (including volunteers, interns, contract workers, service providers, and agents) are able to work or conduct activities in a safe and sexual hostile-free environment;
inform all employees, through effective means, the anti-sexual harassment policy and the channels to lodge complaints;
raise staff awareness on sexual harassment and nurture the right and proper value of respecting others;
set up effective channels for lodging complaints, which are sensitive to the feelings and needs of complainants, in order to make the complaint handling mechanism more user-friendly;
handle complaints on the principles of fairness, impartiality and confidentiality, and in a serious and discreet manner; and
ensure that nobody will be punished because of lodging a complaint in good faith.
- Sexual harassment may occur to any person, regardless of gender. Any workplace participant who believes that he or she is a victim of sexual harassment or witnessed any sexual harassment shall act promptly. Once an act of sexual harassment occurred, any person in the Law Society has a right to lodge a complaint.
- Even if the act of sexual harassment is not intentional, it amounts to sexual harassment once the act meets the definition of sexual harassment. Hence, no matter whether the act is intentional or not, or even if the act is of a playful nature, it may amount to sexual harassment.
- A single incident may also amount to sexual harassment.
- Sexual harassment incidents are not limited to situations relating to a power relationship, i.e., the powerful harass the weak, for example, a supervisor harassed a subordinate. Sexual harassment may also occur between peers. It is also possible for a person weaker in power to harass a more powerful person.
- The Law Society’s internal complaint handling procedure does not affect the Complainant’s right to lodge a complaint directly with the Equal Opportunities Commission (”EOC”), to take civil court action or to report to the Police or any other organisations. In appropriate cases for example, where an alleged act amounts to a criminal offence such as indecent assault, the Law Society may also refer the matter to the Police.
- There is a time bar for lodging a complaint with the EOC or to take legal action. If the complainant intends to lodge a complaint with the EOC, he or she should take action within 12 months after the incident occurred. Otherwise, the EOC will not handle the case unless there are justifiable reasons for the delay.
- Delay may cause difficulty to any investigation of a complaint and collection of evidence. Complaints should therefore be filed with the Law Society as soon as possible and not later than 3 months after the occurrence of the incident. Reasons should be submitted to justify a delayed complaint filed after 3 months of the relevant incident.
- Complaints shall be handled in a just and impartial manner to ensure that the complainant and the complainee are fairly treated, and both parties have chances to present their case.
- All information and records related to a sexual harassment complaint are confidential and shall only be disclosed to relevant staff on a need-to-know basis. Under the principle of natural justice, the complainee shall be informed about the details of the allegation.
- Assistant Director, Administration and Human Resources (“ADAHR”) is designated as the Equal Opportunity Officer (“EOO”) (Email at firstname.lastname@example.org and direct Tel No at 2846 0506).
- Normally, the EOO shall not proceed further with an anonymous complaint unless matters alleged are of such a nature that the EOO considers should be further investigated.
- On receiving a complaint,
- the EOO will be the main point of contact for the complainant;
- the EOO will inform the complainant of the procedures for this purpose;
- the EOO will ascertain whether the complainant wishes to attempt to resolve the complaint informally with the assistance of the EOO (informal complaint handling procedure will be more appropriate for handling relatively minor sexual harassment, does not involve an investigation and the primary concern of the complainant is to stop the act rather than penalising thecomplainee);
- where the complainant agrees, the EOO will obtain permission in writing from the complainant for disclosure of his or her identity to the complainee and to other persons to whom disclosure is necessary and will try to assist to resolve the complaint informally (this will involve the EOO conveying to the complainee about the allegations and to reaffirm the organisation’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy that sexual harassment at work is discriminatory and unlawful and will not be tolerated);
- if the informal process of resolving the matter fails, the EOO shall ascertain whether the complainant wishes to continue with the complaint under these procedures;
- if the complainant wishes to do so, the EOO shall invite the complainant to make a formal complaint in the attached prescribed complaint form. Taking into account the education level and disability status of the complainant, communication difficulties and the distress suffered by the complainant, the EOO will provide appropriate assistance to the complainant in lodging a formal complaint and in the meantime, support will be provided to the complainant as appropriate, for example, rearrangement of duties etc;
- if the complainant does not wish to make a formal complaint, but the complainee wishes to make a formal complaint arising from the allegations made by the complainant, the same complaint handling procedure described below will be adopted.
- The EOO will then undertake a preliminary enquiry into the complaint to determine whether there is prima facie evidence to support any discrimination / harassment allegations. This is not intended to be a full-scale inquiry at this stage.
- The EOO will then submit a written report to the Secretary General normally within one week of the receipt of the complaint setting out the allegations made, a brief summary of the evidence available to the preliminary inquiry and the conclusion on whether there are sufficient materials to warrant a full-scale investigation.
- A Panel Against Discrimination and Sexual Harassment (“Panel”) is formed comprising the following members (“Panellists”):
- Law Society Council members (“Category A”);
- Law Society staff of directorate grade and above (“Category B”).
- The President shall be the Panel Convenor. In the event that there is a conflict for the President to be the Panel Convenor, e.g. when the President is involved in the complaint, then one of the Vice Presidents, in order of their seniority (i.e. starting from the most senior among the three Vice Presidents), shall be the Panel Convenor.
- Upon receipt of a written report from the EOO, the Secretary General shall:
- inform the Panel Convenor of the allegation or complaint;
- invite the Panel Convenor to appoint two more Panellists of different gender from Category B; where the allegation or complaint involves Law Society employees only,
- invite the Panel Convenor to appoint two more Panellists of different gender from Category A; where the allegation or complaint involves a person who is not a Law Society employee.
Prima Facie Case
- The Secretary General and the appointed two Panellists (“Case Panellists”) will review the written report from the EOO and decide whether there is a prima facie case to proceed further.
- If there is no prima facie case, the complaint will be dismissed.
- If there is a prima facie case, the Case Panellists will proceed with an investigation reviewing the information provided on the complaint form.
- In the course of the investigation:
- The complainee will be given a copy of the complaint by the Case Panellists and will be provided with an opportunity to respond to the allegation.
- The complainant, complainee, witnesses and any other parties concerned will each be interviewed in private by the Case Panellists.
- Any individual attending an interview may ask with supporting reasons and details of the accompanying person (name, occupation and relationship) for prior written permission from the Case Panellists to have one accompanying person other than a legal representative to attend the interview with him or her. A witness in the case is not a suitable accompanying person. The Case Panellists’ decision on such a request shall be final. If the request is granted, the accompanying person will not be entitled to address the Case Panellists.
- A record will be kept of all documents/evidence given to the Case Panellists.
- The Case Panellists will submit a written fact-finding report to the Panel Convenor. The fact-finding report shall be in the attached format.
- The Panel Convenor shall review the fact-finding report and notify the complainant and the complainee in writing of the fact-finding report.
- If the finding is that the allegation of sexual harassment is established, the complainee will have the right to submit an appeal to the Panel Convenor. If the finding is that the allegation of sexual harassment is not established, then the complainant will have the right to submit an appeal in writing with supporting reasons (“Appeal Submission”) to the Panel Convenor. The submission of an appeal should be made within 28 days from the date of notification of the finding to the relevant party.
- Upon receipt of an appeal, the Panel Convenor will establish an Appeal Panel (consisting of three members of the Panel who have not had any prior involvement in the case).
- The Appeal Panel shall review the fact-finding report, taking into account the Appeal Submission. The Appeal Panel may meet the complainant or the complainee and the relevant witnesses.
- The Appeal Panel may uphold, vary or overturn the finding of the Case Panellists. The Appeal Panel’s decision on the facts will be final, and will be reported to the Panel Convenor.
- Depending on the final findings, the Panel Convenor shall decide the follow up action to take and the decision of the Panel Convenor will be conveyed to the complainee and the complainant.
- The decision of the Panel Convenor is final and will be conveyed in writing to the complainant and the complainee.
- The follow-up actions on an employee of the Law Society found to have a complaint established against him or her, depending on the severity of the act, may include the issue of a verbal or written warning, the requirement to attend anti-discrimination / anti-sexual harassment training, the demand of an apology to the victim or the termination of employment contract. If a case involves criminal offences, the matter will be reported to the Police.
- The follow-up actions on a person other than an employee of the Law Society found to have a complaint established against him or her, depending on the severity of the act, may include the issue of a verbal or written warning, the demand of the making of an apology to the victim and the termination of the relevant work relationship the person has with the Law Society (for example, the termination of the person’s memberships on all Law Society committees (except Council membership which will be governed by the Law Society’s Articles of Association) or the termination of service contracts the person has with the Law Society). If a case involves criminal offences, the matter will be reported to the Police.
Please click here for the Prescribed Complaint Form For Harrassment