Employment: Discrimination Because of Pregnancy

Employment: Discrimination Because of Pregnancy

Employment: Discrimination Because of Pregnancy 1920 1080 Adam Hugill
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Adam Hugill discusses Hong Kong’s employment laws related to discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and provides practical guidance for both employers and employees in order to avoid such circumstances taking place. He also highlights the importance of the role that the Equal Opportunities Commission can play in pregnancy discrimination cases.

Show Notes:

00:28 The Employment Ordinance
01:00 The Sex Discrimination Ordinance
01:36 Advice for employers
02:03 Advice for employees


Almost 80% of all claims made to the Equal Opportunities Commission regarding sex discrimination relate to discrimination in the workplace. Of these, one third relate to pregnancy related discrimination. This means that last year there were over 100 complaints to the Equal Opportunities Commission for pregnancy related discrimination.

The Employment Ordinance provides some protection for women against being terminated during their pregnancy and their 10-week maternity leave period. While in most cases it is a criminal offence to terminate a pregnant employee, horror stories of employers making life intolerable are not uncommon. We regularly hear stories of mothers so concerned by the additional stresses put on them by heartless employers that they feel compelled to resign. It is also not uncommon to hear stories of women returning to work after their period of maternity leave to find that the restructuring or reorganization has taken place.

The Sex Discrimination Ordinance specifically protects employees against both direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy. Although the ordinance does not specifically refer to maternity leave, courts take a broad approach and so the maternity leave is included. The Equal Opportunities Commission considers that pregnancy discrimination includes refusing to hire pregnant women, dismissal or transferring duties, reducing hours or pay, being overlooked for promotion, or being reduced or denied bonuses.

Employers must not make assumptions about pregnant women. Pregnancy does not mean that someone cannot do their job. Similarly, the fact that somebody has had a child does not mean that they will be less committed, productive or engaged in their employment. Employers should have in place clear policies covering prenatal and maternity leave issues, including how appraisals pay review and bonuses will be handled during maternity leave. It is also advisable to give training to management to encourage an atmosphere of openness and acceptance.

Discrimination can be obvious and direct, but it could also be subtle and undetectable, and something that mounts up over time. If someone thinks they might be the victim of pregnancy related discrimination, there are a number of measures that they should take.

Keep a record of what has happened, even of small events or comments that have been made. Keep medical records. Review the employers’ policies and consider whether you want to raise an internal grievance, either formally or informally. Finally, report the matter to the Equal Opportunities Commission. The EOC has wide powers to investigate potential discrimination and also act as a conciliator for the purpose of helping employees and employers find a satisfactory outcome.


This video is for informational purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal or professional advice.

Adam Hugill

Adam advises on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious legal and commercial issues, with a special emphasis on employment law in Hong Kong and the Asia Pacific region.

All articles by : Adam Hugill
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