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.
measures - What should employers and employees do?
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Rights and obligations of employers and employees under the Employment
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.
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.
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.
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,
Rights and obligations of employers and employees under the Employees
Compensation Ordinance (ECO)
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.
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
- 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.
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 www.labour.gov.hk.
For further information
on SARS, please call the Department of Health's hotline on 2833 0111
or visit their website at www.info.gov.hk/dh.