This paper discusses an exploratory, small-scale study that investigated the use of English as a lingua franca in domestic workplaces in Hong Kong between Filipino employees and Hong Kongese employers. Through data collected from 26 surveys of and interviews with 18 employers and employees, the study explored the characteristics of the pragmatic features of communication, and identified the challenges experienced by participants and the pragmatic strategies that they used to communicate. In general, it was found that what can be defined as active strategies, such as clarification, repetition and direct questioning, were more successful in achieving effective communication from a transactional perspective, while passive strategies, such as ignoring unknown language produced by an interlocutor in the expectation that it would either become clear or redundant, were more likely to lead to ambiguity and misunderstanding. The study also found that pragmatic competence was viewed as being more important than language ‘proficiency’ as it has traditionally been conceived. The article concludes that there may be a need for critical reflection on the ESP courses that are currently provided in the Hong Kong context.