VII. How to complain
If you have been discriminated against, you should first complain to the person responsible for the discriminatory conduct. If the complaint is job-related, you can lodge a complaint with your organization's management or seek other forms of help from your staff association or labour union (if you belong to one). If the complaint is related to the provision of goods, services, facilities, or an educational establishment, you can lodge a complaint with the relevant service providers and request improvement.
If you fail to get any positive reply after complaining to the discriminator, you can lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Alternatively, you may bring your case to the District Court.
If you have been treated badly because you acted as a witness or provided information for a friend or colleague who lodged a complaint, you can also lodge a complaint of "victimisation" (see section 9 of the SDO , section 7 of the DDO , section 6 of the FSDO or section 6 of the RDO ). You should immediately inform those who are dealing with your friend's or colleague's complaint such as their representing lawyer or the EOC.
Remember to make a record of what has happened as soon as possible while the incident is still fresh in your mind. The information will help you recall details at a later date should you wish to lodge a complaint, or take legal action.
A. How to lodge a complaint
You need to lodge your complaint in writing and provide the following information:
- details of the discriminatory acts and the dates involved;
- your personal information including your name and contact information. Other information required includes: sex or state of pregnancy (for sex discrimination), nature of your disability (for disability discrimination), or marital status and number of children (for family status discrimination), or race (for race discrimination);
- name of the discriminator/respondent (i.e. name of the person or company that discriminated against you) and their contact information;
- information supporting your claim of discrimination, harassment, vilification or victimisation;
- details of any detriment or emotional disturbance you have suffered because of the discriminatory acts;
- information pertaining to any witness(es), such as their contact information and what they witnessed.
If you have difficulties in preparing a written complaint, you can call the EOC enquiry hotline at 2511 8211 or e-mail the EOC at email@example.com .
You may lodge your complaint through the EOC's on-line complaint form , by fax at 2106 2324, by post, or in person at 19/F., CityPlaza Three, 14 Taikoo Wan Road , Taikoo Shing, Hong Kong.
After a complaint is received, the EOC will first investigate the complaint and decide if the complaint has substantial grounds. If the complaint does not have substantial grounds, it will be discontinued. If there are substantial grounds, the EOC may proceed to conciliation or decide to start legal proceedings.
B. Time limit for lodging a complaint
If you would like to lodge a complaint with the EOC, you need to do it within 12 months of the incident. If you decide to take legal proceedings to the District Court, you need to do it within 24 months of the incident. You should try to seek legal advice before taking any legal action.
C. Investigation by the EOC
The EOC is required by law to investigate the complaint. Allegations by the complainant are sent to the respondent/discriminator for comment. Responses (if any) are then made available to the complainant. Witness statements are taken and pertinent materials are gathered to see if the case should be discontinued or proceed to conciliation. All information gathered during the investigation stage is kept confidential from third parties but may be used in court proceedings.
The EOC may decide not to conduct or to discontinue an investigation into a complaint if:
- more than 12 months have passed since the discriminatory act was done;
- the act complained of is not unlawful;
- the aggrieved person does not desire to continue with the investigation;
- the complaint cannot be pursued appropriately only as a representative complaint (i.e. the complaint should be personally lodged by the aggrieved person instead of being lodged through a representative);
- the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance.
When the investigation is completed, either side can also request that the case be settled through conciliation. However, conciliation is completely voluntary and either party can stop the process at any time .
The conciliator of the EOC assists both parties to examine the issues that led to the complaint, identify points of agreement and negotiate a settlement to the dispute. The conciliator does not represent either side but only acts as a facilitator.
What are the advantages of conciliation?
- Conciliation is free;
- It is less time consuming than going to court;
- Unlike court cases, there is no media exposure to the individual parties;
- It is less formal compared to court trial.
What settlement terms can I ask for during the conciliation procedure?
Terms depend on the circumstances of the dispute. Normally, it is a reversal of the situation that led to the complaint. For example, if a person was dismissed, he could ask to be re-employed. If he was denied a promotion or transfer, he could ask for the promotion or transfer. If training was denied, he could ask for the admission of the training course. Any of these items could be made as a condition in the settlement term. Other possible items include:
- a letter of apology;
- implement of equal opportunities policies;
- financial settlement/compensation;
- construction of physical access, etc. (for physical disability cases)
For more information about the conciliation procedure, please go to the EOC webpage .
D. Legal action
If the conciliation is not successful, the complainant can apply to the EOC for legal assistance to commence a civil lawsuit in the District Court. The granting of legal assistance by the EOC is not guaranteed. It may be granted if the EOC thinks that it is unreasonable, because of the complexity of the case or the complainant's position in relation to the respondent, to expect the complainant to deal with the case unaided.
Legal assistance may include the giving of legal advice, representation by the EOC's lawyers, legal representation by outside lawyers or any other form of assistance the EOC considers appropriate. A committee of the EOC considers all applications. If you wish to seek further information from the EOC, please click here .
If you fail to get legal assistance from the EOC, you may consider the Legal Aid Scheme run by the Legal Aid Department. Before obtaining legal aid, you need to go through a financial means test and a case merits test. For more details, please go to another topic – Legal Aid .
Any aggrieved person can also go to the District Court directly and initiate a civil lawsuit under the law without going through the EOC. However, you are strongly recommended to consult a lawyer before taking legal action.
On the other hand, the EOC cannot entertain applications for legal assistance unless you have been through its complaints system and conciliation has proved to be unsuccessful. In such cases, the EOC may grant legal assistance if it thinks it is appropriate to do so.
Examples of compensation or remedial action include damages (compensation) for injury to feelings, financial compensation (e.g. for loss of income), a written apology, or provision of reasonable accommodation (to assist the complainant to perform their work duties, or attend school, etc.).