Hong Kong’s quarantine arrangements
As the world continues the global fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic, the Hong Kong Government has announced various quarantine arrangements with regard to persons who have visited Hubei Province or other parts of Mainland China in the past 14 days.
Currently, people who have close contact with confirmed cases, or who have visited Hubei Province in the past 14 days will have to undergo mandatory quarantine. On 5 February 2020, the Hong Kong Government further announced a new quarantine arrangement - effective from midnight, 8 February 2020, whereby all persons entering Hong Kong from Mainland China will have to undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days. This new mandatory quarantine arrangement is also applicable to any persons entering from other countries if they have visited Mainland China within the past 14 days.
How the workplace may be affected
In view of the new quarantine measures, starting from 8 February 2020, if your staff members return to Hong Kong from Mainland China (or have visited Mainland China in the past 14 days prior to their entry to Hong Kong), they will have to undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days. In its press release dated 30 January 2020, the Labour Department advised that if an employee is required or ordered to be put under medical surveillance or quarantine, he or she will be issued a medical certificate with the statement “under medical surveillance”, and in such circumstances, the employer is obliged to grant that employee sick leave in accordance with the Employment Ordinance. However, in its publication issued in February 2020 “Obligations and rights of employers and employees under the Employment Ordinance (EO) relating to the Severe Respiratory Disease associated with a novel infectious agent (Novel Coronavirus Infection)” the previous position was not repeated. Instead it is stated in the publication that for an employee subject to mandatory quarantine, he/she is required to satisfy the requirements under the EO including the provision of an “appropriate medical certificate” in order to be entitled to receive sickness allowance under the EO. An appropriate medical certificate is the one issued by a registered medical practitioner setting out the number of suggested sick leave and the nature of the disease/injury. It is further provided in later part of the publication that if an employee does not contract any disease during quarantine and therefore no sick leave being granted, the EO does not provide for wage arrangements in such circumstances, and employers are encouraged to make flexible arrangement. It is therefore unclear that if an employee is put on mandatory quarantine but has no illness whether any wages or sickness allowance is payable.
It is advisable for employers to have the relevant policies in place to tackle the special arrangement during this difficult period of time. Our recommendations are as follows:
Employers should consider putting in place a policy to suspend business trips to Mainland China and to request employees avoid non-essential travel to Mainland China. There should be a mechanism in place such that management will be informed if any employees have plans to travel to or return from Mainland China, or if they have family members that are subject to mandatory quarantine.
The policy should also cater for special work arrangements in case any staff members are subject to mandatory quarantine. It is now common for companies to have remote working arrangements in place, and it is advisable to have a policy in this regard that sets out the details of such an arrangement to minimise any disruption at work and to the business.
If employees have close family members under mandatory quarantine, employers should consider whether to request the relevant employees do not return to the office for a period of 14 days. Upon discussion and agreement with the relevant employees, they may work remotely (if practicable), or be placed on annual leave or no pay leave. Alternatively, under the Employment Ordinance, an employer may designate an employee to take annual leave upon giving 14 days’ advance notice. On this basis, an employer should consider having a policy in place and ensure that employees are aware and understand that in cases where they have a family member under mandatory quarantine or are advised by the Hong Kong Government to be under voluntary quarantine, their annual leave shall be designated on those days under quarantine.
If a confirmed case is found in respect of any staff member, it would be advisable to have a policy in place to deal with the incident, and to ensure that other staff members are reassured of the safety of their work-place.
There is no doubt that Hong Kong is currently undergoing an extremely difficult period of time. However, with proper arrangements and policies in place, it is possible to keep disruption to business to a minimal. In Hong Kong, we trust!