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Can employers ask domestic helpers to stay in on their day off because of COVID-19 concerns?

For workers, their day off is the only time that they have to manage personal matters. Understandably, they may wish to spend their day off outside. Employers and domestic helpers should have open communication with an understanding of each other’s concerns for health and work boundaries.

Domestic helpers are entitled to one rest day per week. Emergencies aside, it is illegal for you to compel a domestic helper to work on a rest day. Domestic helpers are entitled to a full 24 hour rest period and you should not ask them to work at all during this period. This is one of the reasons that setting a curfew is generally not acceptable. Read more about rest days: HERE

See message from the Labour Department on this (30 Jan 2020 from www.fdh.labour.gov.hk)

Prevention of Novel Coronavirus Infection – Encourage Foreign Domestic Helpers to Stay Home on their Rest Day

The Labour Department (LD) appealed to foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) to stay home on their rest day in order to safeguard their personal health and to reduce the risk of the spread of the novel coronavirus in the community.

The spokesman said, “The response level under the ‘Preparedness and Response Plan for Novel Infectious Disease of Public Health Significance’ has been raised to Emergency Response Level with effect from January 25. The public should refrain from gathering so as to minimise the risk of infection. The Government notes that the Philippine and Indonesian Consulates-General have also appealed to their nationals to take necessary health precautions and avoid large crowds or gatherings.”

“The Government appeals to FDHs to stay home for rest on their rest day as far as possible, and to stay away from crowds on public transport or at public places. At the same time, employers must not require FDHs to work on their rest day. If it is necessary for FDHs to go out, they are advised to wear a surgical mask and to avoid staying in crowded places. If a FDH or his/her employer has visited the Mainland recently, he/she should wear a surgical mask and stay home for 14 days upon return to Hong Kong as far as possible,” the spokesman continued.

LD appeals to employers to explain the special circumstances in discussing rest day arrangements with their FDHs and calls for mutual understanding. In particular, LD reminds that an employer who compels his/her FDH to work on a rest day is in breach of the Employment Ordinance and is liable to prosecution and, upon conviction, to a maximum fine of $50,000.

For further health advice on the prevention of pneumonia and respiratory tract infection, please visit the thematic website of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health (DH) (www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/) or call the DH’s hotline (2125 1122).

Information in Chinese, English, Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia, Thai, Hindi, Sinhala, Bengali, Nepali and Urdu are available.

For enquiry on employment rights and benefits, please call the LD’s 24-hour enquiry hotline at 2717 1771 (the hotline is manned by “1823”). Employers may also make reference to the press release on LD’s appeal to employers to make arrangement to reduce the risk of the spread of novel coronavirus in the community (www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202001/30/P2020013000285.htm).

If by mutual agreement, domestic helpers would like to stay home during their day off, here are some helpful tips:

Set boundaries and expectations so that the domestic helper can spend their day-off at home: 

Common concerns of workers about staying home on their day off include being expected to work on their day-off, and feeling uncomfortable if they don’t have a personal space in the house. 

Explain to all members of your household that your worker will be spending their day off at home and will not be on duty. Provide reassurance that your worker is welcome to stay at home and have their day-off.

Increase awareness about the COVID-19 Situation: Domestic helpers may not have good access to updates about the coronavirus situation, and there is a lot of misinformation and fake news circulating on social media. Employers can help their domestic helpers keep updated about the virus situation in Hong Kong, and to understand preventative measures such as:

Hygiene products: Employers can make sure their domestic helper also has access to protective materials, and that she has masks and hand sanitizer not only when working but also on her day off.

Set some household policies

For example, set rules such as:

Hygiene Guidelines by Helpwise

Helpwise is a consultancy service for employers of domestic helpers in Hong Kong. They have developed this resource to help employers establish hygiene guidelines with their domestic helpers for their home: HERE.

Helpwise offers practical and personalized advice for employers. Reach out to Helpwise to book a phone consultation that could guide you to solutions that work for your household. HERE

Reach out to your agency for support

The coronavirus situation has added new challenges to working relationships between employers and domestic helpers. Your agency may be able to provide you guidance and support at this time. At Fair Employment Agency, we have our dedicated Client Care team to support our employers and workers. Please do reach out to us if Fair Employment Agency is your agency.

If you need additional support on how to manage your helper during this unique time, Helpwise offers practical and personalized advice for employers. Reach out to Helpwise to book a phone consultation that could guide you to solutions that work for your household. HERE

What is the situation in Hong Kong regarding the coronavirus?

  • Centre for Health Protection (CHP) provides updates on the situation and educational materials: here
  • Help your domestic helper stay up to date on new regulations by sharing news updates and announcements.

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Last updated on May 5th, 2021
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