[ Domestic worker falls ill ] Is the employer responsible for the medical expenses? How to calculate sick leave? What if the helper is diagnosed with a critical illness?
The foreign maid helps with the household chores and cooks meals for the employer and his family everyday. But no matter how hard the domestic helper works, she can still fall ill every now and then. When she gets sick, what should you do as an employer? Who is responsible for the medical expenses? How is sick leave calculated? What if the helper is diagnosed with a critical illness? In this Kwiksure article, we will shed some light on what employers should pay attention to when the helper falls ill.
Does the employer have to pay the medical expenses of the foreign domestic helper (FDH)?
Under the terms of the "Standard Employment Contract'', if a domestic helper falls ill or is injured during the employment period (except when the helper is outside Hong Kong voluntarily or for personal reasons, such as when she is on vacation in her home country), regardless of whether the injury or illness is caused by her employment, the employer is required to provide medical care free of charge. That means, among other things, the employer has to pay the costs of consultations, hospitalization and handling dental emergencies.
On the other hand, FDHs have to agree to be treated by registered doctors provided by the employer. Accordingly, it is best for both parties to agree beforehand which doctor is to be consulted in case the helper falls ill or is injured.
Employees’ Compensation Insurance does not cover medical expenses
Since the employer has to pay the medical expenses for the domestic helper, securing domestic helper insurance not only protects the helper, but also protects the employer himself.
But you may think: I have secured employees’ insurance for my domestic helper already, shouldn’t that be enough?
The truth of the matter is that Employees’ Compensation Insurance is required under Hong Kong law. Even for part-time workers such as hourly helpers and confinement ladies, employers must purchase employees’ insurance. However, employees’ insurance does not provide medical protection, and the Consumer Council believes that employees’ insurance alone is not sufficient. It is recommended that employers purchase comprehensive domestic helper insurance as well, so that even if the foreign helper falls ill, you do not have to pay the expensive medical and surgical expenses with your own funds.
Domestic helper insurance usually covers 1) the outpatient consultation and medical expenses of the helper incurred in a hospital or clinic, 2) the surgical and hospitalization expenses, and 3) the expenses related to dental emergencies. In other words, domestic helper insurance already covers the expenses specified in the "Standard Employment Contract" that the employer is responsible for.
How do I calculate the paid sick leave of FDHs?
Under Hong Kong law, during the first 12 months of employment, FDHs can enjoy 2 days of paid sick leave for each month of employment completed; after the first year of employment, they can enjoy 4 days of paid sick leave for each month of employment completed, and up to 120 days of paid sick leave can be accumulated.
Employers are required to allow the domestic helper to take paid sick leave provided the domestic helper can produce the appropriate medical certificate. During a paid sick leave, FDHs are paid four-fifths of their average daily wages and must be paid on the regular pay day at the latest.
Should a helper go to a public or a private hospital when she is sick?
If your FDH has a Hong Kong identity card, she can enjoy public medical benefits just like local residents, meaning that a visit to the A&E costs $180 and hospitalization costs only $120 per day. With that said, for minor illnesses, we recommend going straight to a private clinic. After reimbursement from your domestic helper insurer, your out-of-pocket expenses will be below HKD $100, but you can save the time spent waiting in line to see a doctor. Naturally, where long-term treatment is needed, we still recommend seeking medical treatment in a public hospital.
Can a sick foreign domestic helper be dismissed?
Not unless the FDH is summarily dismissed for gross negligence. It is an offense for an employer to dismiss an FDH who is on paid sick leave, and an offending employer is liable to a fine of HKD $100,000 upon conviction. On top of that, the employer must pay 1) in lieu of notice, 2) compensation equal to 7 days' wages, and 3) sickness allowance to which the FDH is entitled.
In addition, FDHs have a right to seek compensation from their employers for unreasonable and unlawful dismissal under the "Employment Protection" section of the Employment Ordinance.
What should I do if my foreign domestic helper becomes seriously ill?
If, unfortunately, your helper is diagnosed with a critical illness, such as heart disease or cancer, the employer usually cannot afford the treatment costs in private hospitals. In that case, the only options available to the employer are to transfer the helper to a public hospital or arrange for her return to her country for treatment. This will significantly affect the quality of treatment she will receive.
If the foreign domestic helper has been helping you for some time, and a family-like relationship has come into existence, you may consider securing critical illness protection in addition to domestic helper insurance for your helper. The critical illness insurance will pay a one-off cash benefit should the helper suffer from a specified critical illness (such as stroke, heart attack, cancer). The helper can use the money for treatment or living expenses at her discretion.
What if my FDH is pregnant or has a miscarriage?
If the helper is pregnant and asks for maternity leave, provided there is a doctor’s proof that she is pregnant and she has an estimated due date, and the domestic helper has been employed for at least 40 weeks before the scheduled maternity leave start date, she will be entitled to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, during which the daily pay is four-fifths of her average daily wage. If the helper has been in her job for less than 40 weeks, she is still entitled to 14 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.
The law does not stipulate that employers should pay the expenses related to the pregnancy of foreign domestic helpers, such as examination fees or baby supplies.
In addition, if the foreign domestic worker deliberately concealed her pregnancy at the time of employment contract, the employer will not have to pay maternity leave wages.
My Indonesian/Filipino maid refuses to see doctors, what should I do?
Some Filipino and Indonesian FDHs like to take over-the-counter medicines, or simply opt for self-recovery, and seldom seek medical treatment on their own. This is because it is very expensive to seek treatment at a hospital in their home country.
Here in Hong Kong, if your FDH is ill and refuses to seek medical treatment, you can explain the situation in Hong Kong to your helper. If they dread taking medicine, you may accompany your helper to the clinic or hospital, and let the doctor explain her condition and the necessity of taking medicine to your helper. Instead of putting blame on the helper, employers should be patient when communicating with their helper, so that they understand that taking medicine can help them recover sooner.