Domestic Helpers' Medical Expenses in Hong Kong
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Domestic workers’ health is usually something a lot of employers overlook. Some employers might not even know when the helper’s gum is infected for so many days because she does not dare to tell. You are legally obliged to shoulder your helper’s medical expenses and to give sick leaves to your helper when necessary. How does this work?
Under what circumstances should you shoulder your helper's medical expenses?
According to the Labour Department, you need to provide free treatment to your helper whether or not her sickness or injury is attributed to her work. It means that you should pay for instance all the costs due to a medical consultation, stays at the hospital or emergency dental treatments. It also means no matter whether your helper cuts her hand while cooking dinner or gets bitten by a dog after her working hours, you should still provide free medical treatment to her. That is way, you are strongly advised to take out an insurance policy which includes full medical and hospitalisation coverage for the helper.
Your helper has to accept whichever registered medical practitioner you find for her. However, you can communicate with your helper to find out whether there are any that she prefers. For examples, she might not like having a male doctor, or she might know from her friends that there is a good doctor elsewhere. As long as you think her demand and the medical fees charged are reasonable, you can try accommodating her needs.
Common illnesses your helper can have
Although employers usually avoid hiring helpers who are too old and maybe unfit to work, some illnesses can happen to young and strong helpers whom you would not expect to fall sick.
Common long-term illness can include:
Stroke. Stroke happens when arteries taking blood from the heart to the brain are blocked. Helpers who like taking in food high in cholesterol or have stroke in the family history would be more susceptible to the illness. Your helper would be bedridden for a long time and might be unfit to work afterwards. As the employer, you can pay for an insurance that has a fuller coverage that would give you assurance when your helper is hospitalised. You can also take your helper to medical check-up regularly.
Breast cancer. You can ask your helper to self-examine whether she can feel lumps in her breasts regularly, but this is not reliable. Again, get an insurance plan with fuller coverage to protect you and your helper when accidents happen, and make sure to send her to female check-up regularly.
Other common injuries and illnesses for domestic workers in Hong Kong are:
Getting bitten by dogs. Some employers just ask the helper to clean the wound and put a bandage over it when that happens, lest their dog will be taken away because of this or the employer will be punished. We do not advise employers to do this. If the bite is serious, if you or your helper are not first-aiders or medical professionals the wound will not be clean. The dog might also carry other diseases. To prevent the wound from worsening, you need to bring the helper to a hospital for treatment.
Dental problems. Some helpers are at the age of growing wisdom teeth when they come to Hong Kong. In a lot of cases, their gums get infected and some people might even need to undergo small surgeries to remove the wisdom teeth. A lot of insurance plans cover dental expenses.
Generally, if this is not an emergency, you are not obliged by the law to pay for your helpers’ medical expenses (even if it would be generous). In case the insurance does not cover those expenses, your helper could go back to her home country on vacation to benefit from cheaper rates.
Sick leaves and sickness allowance
Your helper is entitled to two paid sick leave days every month for the first year of employment, and after that, four paid sick leave days every month. Paid sick leave days can be accumulated. If your helper is sick and she presents an appropriate sick leave certificate, she should be allowed to take sick leaves. However, you only need to pay sickness allowance when the sick leave is taken for no less than four consecutive days, and of course, only if she has accumulated enough paid sick leave days. The rate of sickness allowance should be four-fifths of the average daily wage of the helper. You should not ask your helper to work on her sick leave days, but it can be hard considering that she is still in the house for 24 hours. Just try to put yourself in her shoes and imagine how you would want to be treated by your employer when you are sick.
If my helper gets injured while hiking with the family, do we have to provide free treatment to her?
The minimum requirement of the Hong Kong government is for employers to take out the Employee Compensation Insurance, and that only compensates work injuries. Since the job duties of domestic workers should only be confined to domestic duties, it is not clear whether hiking with the family on a work day can be considered as a domestic duty, and whether any injuries suffered during the hike can be considered as work injuries. However, according to the Labour Department, you should still provide free treatment to your helper regardless of whether the injury is attributed to her employment as long as she is in Hong Kong, so it can mean that you would still need to provide free treatment to her, but whether or not the basic insurance covers is unclear. For clarification, you should contact the Labour Department and your insurance company.