The easy answer to this question is: you should give her almost absolute freedom on her rest day! Your worker is entitled to a 24-hour day off every week, but on issues such as curfews, staying out on the night of rest day, there is a grey area. Therefore, we advise you to discuss with your helper about those issues.
What if I do not like what my helper is doing on her day off?
Employers have a lot of concerns about what their helper is doing on her day off. Some employers do not like how their helper dresses when she goes out on her day off, some do not like that their helper goes to clubs, and some do not like that she is part of a workers’ union. These worries are unwarranted. Just think of your helper as your normal employee, would you mind whether your normal employee has a boyfriend and what she does outside work time? Probably not. As long as when she comes back, her work performance is up to your standards, you should not question what she does on her day off – but of course you can chat about it!
A lot of employers like imposing a curfew on their helpers on their day off, mostly because they worry about what their helpers are doing late at night or because the noises their helpers make while entering the house disturb them. Your domestic worker should have a 24-hour day off as stipulated by the law. Therefore, if you impose a curfew, does it mean that your worker does not have a 24-hour day off? Some employers think that if their helpers finish work by 9 p.m. on Saturday, although they will not go out after 9 p.m. on that day, it should start being counted towards their rest day, so they can ask their helpers to come back by 9 p.m. on Sunday. It is not exactly illegal as the law does not specify at what time the rest day should start. However, you should understand that your helper is already an adult, so if she would not cause much disturbance while coming back, you should allow her to come back at whatever time she wants. In cases such as when the helper sleeps with the child, and the child needs to sleep early, you should discuss with your helper whether she can come back by the time the child sleeps. With the question of curfew comes another question: if your domestic worker is allowed a 24-hour rest day, does that mean that she can stay out for the whole night and not sleep at your place?
Staying out for one night
The Hong Kong government and the Immigration Department suggest that the employer does not have the right to restrict their helper on their day off, then does it mean that, if your helper’s leave starts on Saturday at 8 p.m., she may go out with friends and spend the night chatting and hanging out and come back by 8 p.m. on Sunday? Following this logic, if your helper wants to stay out for the entire night, this is possible and you would not always know what your helper is doing every minute of the day. But is not coming home on the helper’s day off illegal? After all, according to the government standard employment contract, foreign domestic helpers must “reside” at the employer’s address.
It may seem contradictory that helpers can stay out the entire night, but should reside at the employer’s address. Immigration officers give different answers if asked if the helper can stay out on her day off, but generally speaking it is advised that your helper should not move any of her belongings if she is staying in a boarding house on her day off. If the Immigration Department launches an investigation and she is questioned, she should be able to explain that she is only staying there on her day off and that she is not breaking her employment visa conditions of stay. It is however important that you as an employer feel comfortable with your helper staying out on her day off. Discuss this with her and come to an agreement.
There are quite a few boarding houses in Hong Kong for foreign domestic workers who are legally staying there after their contract has finished or after their employer has terminated their employment visa, or who are occasionally staying on their day off. These boarding houses are generally quite small with multiple bunk beds and a shared bathroom. The charges are around HK$50 to HK$200 per night depending on the size and the number of people living in one room. If you are unsure about whether or not your helper can stay out on her day off, you may contact the Immigration Department directly or ask during the visa application.
To respect your helper’s rest day, therefore, you should not threaten to terminate her if she does not want to come back early. And while she is away, you will have to bear the responsibility of looking after your children.