Guidelines for Employers and Employees

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is an acute respiratory infection which can be transmitted by respiratory droplets over a short distance of one metre or through direct contact with a patient's respiratory secretions.

Symptoms of the disease include: fever (over 38 degrees Celsius) and chills, coughing, shortness of breath, headache, aching body and general malaise.

As a healthy and safe workplace is in the interests of both employers and employees, it is of utmost importance that each of us should continue to be vigilant in guarding against the resurgence of the disease.

The Labour Department has therefore produced these guidelines to advise employers and employees of the precautionary measures and the related employment issues.

Precautionary measures - What should employers and employees do?

Keeping a clean and hygienic work environment

  • Maintain good ventilation at the workplace, e.g. well-maintained air conditioning system, open windows for better ventilation when necessary.
  • Disinfect commonly-used equipment with diluted solution of household bleach (1 part bleach: 99 parts water) when necessary.
  • Keep carpets, doors and windows clean.
  • Ensure toilet facilities are properly maintained.
  • Provide liquid soap, disposable towels and a hand-dryer in toilets.

Enhancing employees personal hygiene

  • Wash hands before touching eyes, mouth or nose.
  • Do not share towels or eating utensils.
  • Increase body immunity by having a balanced diet, taking regular exercise, getting adequate rest and refraining from smoking.
  • Wear a mask in case of respiratory tract infections.
  • Consult a doctor promptly in case of fever or cough.
  • Do not go to work in case of fever.

Employers should

  • Ensure that the workplace is kept clean and hygienic.
  • Provide adequate and proper face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment when necessary. Ensure that the workers are using such personal protective equipment properly when required.
  • Communicate the relevant health advice and guidelines to employees.
  • Remind staff of the importance of good personal hygiene.
  • Remind employees to consult a doctor in case of fever or cough, and not to go to work in case of fever.

Rights and Obligations

Employers and employees should show understanding to each other. We appeal to employers to adopt a considerate, compassionate and flexible attitude in dealing with sick leave and absence from work.

(A) Rights and obligations of employers and employees under the Employment Ordinance (EO)

(1) For an employee who has contracted the disease

  • Where an employee has contracted the disease, his employer should grant sick leave. Under the EO, the employee will receive pay during the period of sick leave. This payment is equivalent to four-fifths of normal wages and is payable if:
    - the sick leave is supported by an appropriate medical certificate;
    - the sick leave is not less than 4 consecutive days; and
    - the employee has accumulated the number of paid sickness days taken.
  • An employer should not terminate an employee's contract of employment during paid sick leave. Such action is an offence under the EO.
  • Where a sick employee has not accumulated sufficient paid sickness days to cover the period of sick leave, we urge the employer to be compassionate and to consider granting the employee paid sick leave.

(2) For an employee subject to an isolation order or requirement by the Director of Health to undergo daily medical check-ups for a certain period

  • As the Department of Health will issue a sick leave certificate to such an employee, the same advice as stated in section (A)(1) above applies.

(3) For an employee who has been asked by his employer to stay away from work because the employee has family members or relatives with the disease, or in the case of the employer closing the workplace for fear of the spread of the disease

  • This amounts to an act of suspension of service by the employer under the EO. The employer should pay the employee(s) wages and other benefits in accordance with the EO and the employment contract.

(4) For a pregnant employee who is concerned about possible infection at the workplace

  • We appreciate the concerns of pregnant employees. The EO does not provide for absence from work in these circumstances. It only requires an employer not to assign to a pregnant employee duties injurious to her pregnancy if she can produce a medical certificate with an opinion as to her unfitness to do such work.
  • In view of the special situation, the employer should, as far as possible, work out with the employee a mutually acceptable arrangement. We urge employers to be sympathetic and flexible.
  • We urge the employer to be compassionate and to consider granting the employee paid leave until the SARS comes under control. The employer may offset the annual leave which the employee has earned. If both parties agree, the employer may advance annual leave to the employee.
  • Depending on circumstances, and if both parties agree, the employer may redeploy the employee to a position with no or less contact with the public, or allow her to work from home by using telephone, e-mail, fax, etc.

(B) Rights and obligations of employers and employees under the Employees Compensation Ordinance (ECO)

For an employee who has contracted the disease

  • SARS is not a compensable occupational disease prescribed under the ECO. However, section 36 of the ECO provides that an employee shall have the right to recover compensation under the Ordinance in respect of a disease that is not a prescribed occupational disease, if the disease is a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment.
  • In handling non-prescribed occupational diseases, the Labour Department will assess whether the employee concerned has accidentally contracted the disease out of and in the course of employment, having regard to the medical records, relevant information of the case and the provisions of the Ordinance. The Labour Department will handle such cases in line with the same principle.
  • An employee who has contracted SARS out of and in the course of employment would be covered by the ECO. In case of a dispute that cannot be resolved with the Labour Department's assistance, the final decision rests with the court.

(C) Other Important Points to Note

  • Under the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, the employer must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure the safety and health at work of all employees.
  • Where it is confirmed that any employee of the workplace has contracted the disease, the employer must thoroughly cleanse and disinfect the work premises, and clean its ventilation system. The employer should inform other relevant staff immediately.
  • The Equal Opportunities Commission reminds employers and employees that:
    -It is not unlawful for an employer to take action if an employee refuses to take precautions or refuses to comply with quarantine measures, where such act is reasonably necessary to protect public health.
    - There is no unlawful discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance or the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance if the employer asks employees with family members/relatives infected with the disease or employees displaying such symptoms to stay at home and take paid leave.
    - It is discriminatory if an employer dismisses or subjects to detriment an employee who has (or might have) the disease, or who has a family member or associate who has (or might have) the disease.

Further information

The Labour Department stands ready to assist individual employers and employees on labour issues. For enquiries, call our hotline on 2717 1771, or browse the Department's website at

For further information on SARS, please call the Department of Health's hotline on 2833 0111 or visit their website at

Labour Department
November 2003