Hong Kong lawmakers have passed a bill to allow employers to sack workers who refuse to receive a Covid-19 vaccination without a reasonable excuse, while employees who were ordered to undergo quarantine can now enjoy sick leave.

covid-19 coronavirus vaccine
Coronavirus vaccination in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) approved changes to the Employment Ordinance on Wednesday, which will now state that it is a “valid reason” for an employer to dismiss a worker – or change the terms of the employment contract – if they refuse to present proof of vaccination. A failure to comply with a legitimate vaccination request would be deemed as “incapable of performing work” under the new legislation.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare of Hong Kong Law Chi-kwong told the legislature that the amendment set out that employers must issue a written notice on any vaccination requirement, though it does not specify the format of the notice. Employers could therefore issue the written notice via email, the minister said.

The approved amendment also enables employees who are absent from work owing to their compliance with Covid-19 rules to claim sickness days. People who are subject to a quarantine order, overnight lockdown order or compulsory testing notice are also included.

Law Chi-kwong
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

It would amount to “unreasonable dismissal” if an employer fired a worker on those grounds, and workers would be able to apply for compensation.

Law said that, during the Covid-19 pandemic, residents who were placed under Covid-related orders did not always receive a medical certificate, which prevented them from meeting the requirement for claiming sick leave.

“[W]hen the provisions did not stipulate clearly the relevant regulations, employers and employees have had arguments over the sickness allowance,” the labour minister said.

The official went on to say that the amendment could not be retrospective, as it could turn circumstances deemed as legal at present unlawful. He said such a move was “unreasonable” and would “easily cause chaos.”

On Wednesday, Hong Kong registered 1,047 new Covid-19 infections, of which 76 were imported. The city also added one related death.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.