The diverse health benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and their mothers are well documented globally. Samantha Cornelius, Counsel and Head of Hong Kong Employment & Incentives, Linklaters writes on why these are important to the workplace.
The diverse health benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and their mothers are well documented globally.
The latest amendments to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance 'SDO', in Hong Kong which came into effect on 19 June 2020, protect breastfeeding women against discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in the employment context as well as in other sectors (e.g., the provision of goods, facilities and services; education; the disposal or management of premises; clubs and the Government). Breastfeeding for this purpose includes the act of breastfeeding as well as the act of expressing breast milk and feeding a child with breast milk.
In the employment context, the amendments protect breastfeeding women from unlawful discrimination during employment (including by fellow employees and other workplace participants such as contract workers, interns or volunteers). The discrimination can be direct (where a breastfeeding woman is treated less favourably than another person in comparable circumstances because she is breastfeeding), or indirect (where a requirement is applied to all employees but the proportion of breastfeeding women who can comply is considerably less, the requirement is not justifiable, and the requirement is to the detriment of the breastfeeding woman).
Forms of harassment that would be caught by the latest amendments to the SDO would include unwelcome conduct or creating a hostile or intimidating environment towards breastfeeding women. An example of victimisation would be treating a breastfeeding woman less favourably because she has brought proceedings for unlawful discrimination or harassment under the SDO.
Following the amendments to the SDO, good practices amongst employers in Hong Kong SAR would include:
- Developing and implementing a written policy supporting breastfeeding employees (and training staff members who are responsible for implementing such policy);
- Ensuring that private, hygienic and safe facilities are available for employees to breastfeed or express and store breast milk and;
- Making appropriate temporary adjustments to working conditions (such as allowing sufficient breaks for breastfeeding or expressing milk and/or agreeing to more flexible working arrangements).
Whilst many countries in Asia Pacific protect breastfeeding women in the workplace under labour laws (e.g., by prohibiting termination of their employment), Hong Kong is a relative front runner in terms of the detailed discrimination protection it affords to breastfeeding women under discrimination laws.
The latest changes to the SDO are therefore a welcome addition to the discrimination ordinances in Hong Kong. Coupled with the recent extension of maternity leave in Hong Kong from 10 weeks to 14 weeks (which came into effect in December 2020), these changes make Hong Kong a more supportive jurisdiction for employees on maternity leave and for those who have returned to work but are still breastfeeding.
Lead image / supplied by Linklaters