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Getting sick while employed

23 October 2017

By Cynthia Tellez

Today’s column is about getting sick during your employment. Getting sick or sustaining injuries during the course of work as a domestic worker is understandable, as the work involves exhausting activities. With no established acceptable working hours in Hong Kong, it is no surprise that working hours of domestic workers are long and arduous. No matter how much you take care of yourself to avoid sickness or injury, due to the nature of your work and Hong Kong’s confined spaces, being under the weather is unavoidable. Many do not get enough rest, sleep, or appropriate and nutritious food. It is for these reasons that knowing your rights regarding illness and injury is important.

Clause 9 of the ID 407 (or Employment Contract For a Domestic Helper Recruited From Abroad) deals with injury and illness of the domestic worker while employed here in Hong Kong. It states that:

“9. (a) In the event that the Helper is ill or suffers personal injury during the period of employment specified in Clause 2, except for the period during which the Helper leaves Hong Kong of his/her* own volition and for his/her* own personal purposes, the Employer shall provide free medical treatment to the Helper. Free medical treatment includes medical consultation, maintenance in hospital and emergency dental treatment. The Helper shall accept medical treatment provided by any registered medical practitioner.

(b) If the Helper suffers injury by accident or occupational disease arising out of and in the course of employment, the Employer shall make payment of compensation in accordance with the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance, Chapter 282.

(c) In the event of a medical practitioner certifying that the Helper is unfit for further service, the Employer may, subject to the statutory provisions of the relevant Ordinances, terminate the employment and shall immediately take steps to repatriate the Helper to his/her* place of origin in accordance with Clause 7.”

As we can glean from this text, every employer in Hong Kong is required to get employee’s compensation insurance for their domestic worker. Getting medical insurance for the employee is encouraged, not required. However, if you sustain an injury during the course of your work for your employer (say, you slipped and fell while carrying grocery items), your employer should pay for your medical needs. The law says that you should agree to your employer’s decision regarding treatment, as long as the doctor is a registered medical practitioner.

If your employer opts or agrees to send you home to be treated, do make sure that you have a recorded agreement that she or he will shoulder your medical treatment while in your home country, and that you are to come back after treatment. This document (or recording) will come in handy should you pursue this further.

If for example, on your last day of sick leave, you still feel ill, you should go back to the doctor the next day. This is for your wellness. Furthermore, this is as well for public safety. You do not want to spread a virus in Hong Kong’s cramped living spaces, as the rate of contaminating others will be faster. You must do this even if you have not set an appointment with the doctor, or you have not asked your employer’s permission.

Your sick leave allowance is four-fifths (4/5) of your average daily wage. This can only be claimed if you have been on sick leave for four days or more. You shall receive this allowance on the next pay day. Whether you can claim this or not, if you are still feeling ill, it is your civic duty to bring yourself back to the doctor.

There are some employers who do not honor medical certificates, and instead, make their domestic workers still work. You should still keep the certificate for future claim even if your illness or injury was not a result of your work. Note clause 9(a) of the contract as stated above.

Regarding claims, you must inform your employer as soon as possible that you have been injured. Your employer should then inform the Labor Department. If your employer is unable to inform the Labor Department, you must inform them immediately. Then the Labor Department will inform you of the process.

It is important that you keep all related documents from the hospital. This includes medical records, certificates (for your sick leave), doctor’s prescription, etc. As much as possible, have lots of copies of these documents. Have a copy of each document for your own records. When filing employees’ compensation, make a document stating in a list the documents you have attached. Have this signed by a staff of the Labor Department or have them officially stamped or chopped with “Received” including the date when the documents were submitted. This document is your receipt, proof that you did file the claim with the required documents. Also ask for the telephone number you can call when following up the claim, as well as the name of the person you should talk to when following up. Get as much information as you can.

There are times when the Employees’ Compensation Division under the Labor Department will want to have you examined by their own medical practitioner before giving their final decision on your claim. You have to submit to this, as the medical practitioner can ascertain if your capacity to work or life expectancy was lessened. If this is the case, you can apply for legal aid.

Migrant service-providers, such as the Mission For Migrant Workers, can assist you in this matter.

Filing claims for compensation due to injuries or illnesses sustained may be a daunting task, even if you are in your home country with people you can trust to advise you on the correct process. There is no harm in asking questions, so if you need more information, do visit one of the migrant service providers in the city.

You are always welcome!
This is the monthly column from the Mission for Migrant Workers, an institution that has been serving the needs of migrant workers in Hong Kong for over 31 years. The Mission, headed by its general manager, Cynthia Tellez, assists migrant workers who are in distress, and  focuses its efforts on crisis intervention and prevention through migrant empowerment. Mission has its offices at St John’s Cathedral on Garden Road, Central, and may be reached through tel. no. 2522 8264.

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