As the fast-moving novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread globally, scientists are accelerating to find ways of fighting this previously unknown threat. While the University of Hong Kong has announced that they have developed a vaccine for the virus, it would take nearly one year to be available to the public. Until then, it is more important than ever for employers and HR managers to know how to respond to this crisis.
Challenge 1: How to determine on leave policy?
With the different scenarios that could happen with employees, here is our advice for HR managers.
If an employee has contracted novel coronavirus infection
According to the Employment Ordinance guidance, employer should grant the employee sickness allowance which is equivalent to four-fifths of the employee's average daily wages if the employee's sick leave is not less than 4 consecutive days with support by an appropriate medical certificate and that the employee has accumulated sufficient number of paid sickness days*.
If the employee has not accumulated sufficient paid sickness days, it is still recommended that employers show compassion by allowing paid sick leave.
Employee will not be entitled to compensation under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance (ECO) if he or she is contracted novel coronavirus in the course of employment, as it is not prescribed as occupational disease under ECO. However, if the employee can prove it is a result of arising out of and in the course of employment, he/she may still be entitled to claim compensation.
* 2 paid sickness days per completed month in the first year of employment, thereafter 4 days per month, but not exceeding an accumulation of 120 days at anytime
If an employee is subject to quarantine (voluntary or requested by Health Officer)
Employers are encouraged to show considerable understanding and make flexible arrangements in line with the employee's situation, allowing work-from-home arrangement and granting paid leave to him/her.
Some employers would choose to grant 80% of average daily wage, referencing the sickness allowance policy under the EO.
Requesting employee to take paid annual leave during the suspension
Employers should communicate the period of annual leave with employee and confirm with a written notice to the employee at least 14 days in advance.
Requesting employee to take no pay leave
No provision under the EO, but employers are recommended to conduct a consultation dialogue to reach a mutual agreement with the employee.
Challenge 2: Health Protection in the Workplace
If an employee has contracted novel coronavirus infection
Generally speaking, employers should notify the Department of Health and follow the provided guidelines. It is not the company's decision to determine which employees should be quarantined at home or at quarantine centres and whether it is applicable to the whole company. It is important that thorough disinfection is carried out if this situation arises.
For employees resuming work at office
Conducting a survey as a health and travel declaration, as well as a means to collect opinions of employees is highly recommended to protect everyone at the workplace and to effectively listen to personal situations and concerns. This involves questions that confirm employee's health condition and also feedback on how they personally find remote working. Example questions include:
Your health status and description of symptoms if any
Have you traveled to China in the past 14 days? If so, please state traveling dates and specific locations
Have you been in contact with people who have traveled to China in the past 14 days? If so, please describe the occasion
For employees in overseas, what kind of transportation is taken back to HK? (including transport number)
How did you find the remote working period? Did you encounter any difficulties?
We understand it can be a difficult situation for each individual employee. Any other support you would like to ask for from the company?
Review group medical insurance plan
Whilst most insurers have announced protection coverage for novel coronavirus, it does not do harm to double-check with the insurer of your current group medical insurance plan and see if there are additional terms regarding quarantine.
Measures to promote effective personal hygiene
More practical methods to ensure employee's health within the office consists of promoting effective tips to maintain personal hygiene.
Washing your hands frequently is by far the most important action that everyone should take. If no water is available, one should use alcohol or hand sanitizers.Provide the necessary supplies such as masks and hand sanitizer
If the building management does not provide temperature monitoring for visitors, the company is advised to conduct temperature monitoring of each employee before they go into the office every morning.
Implement guidelines of refraining employees from work if one is having any of the symptoms of infection, which employees should be advised to inform the office and stay home until they are fully cured and well.
Implement flexible working hours so employees can avoid large crowds when commuting to work, and to consider shift work in larger-sized companies.
Challenge 3: Ensure productivity in a remote work environment
With many employers implementing work-from-home arrangements, the sustainment of the quality of work is another challenge. Limited work progress management and lack of internal communication are the two main problems regarding remote work.
Asana, a collaboration online tool that outlines the development of business projects and goals, allows the user to assign specific tasks to individuals and monitor the progress of the assignments.
As for communication, popular tools such as Skype, Slack, and Zoom are all effective in real-time communication. More specifically, Slack provides different channels within the application that helps relevant team members to communicate easily across different topics. In regards to accessing internal resources, online tools such as Google Office Suite, and Dropbox are all cloud-based tools that allow all employees to access shared documents with just a few clicks. Xero is an online collaborative accounting software that helps HR and Finance managers to streamline payment processes.
Challenge 4: How to protect your team's health in the long term?
Now more than ever, group medical insurance has become important as all employees are worried about how they receive health protection through insurance. As an one-stop solution provider, StartupCare Hong Kong offers SMEs a new form of digitalized group medical insurance that is equipped with following highlighted features to support you and enrolled employees in crisis as such:
eClaim: forget about the traditional paperwork and handle claims at ease
Smart Hospital and Clinic Directory: search in-app for the right medical provider based on your symptoms, location and user reviews, also locations that offer diagnosis and treatment of novel coronavirus
Hospital Income and Cash Benefit: receive allowance of up to HKD 2,000 per day
For a layman, the contents of all group medical insurance plans could be similar. How can employers choose a suitable group medical insurance plan for their employees? What details need to be paid attention to?
Health insurance plans can be a confusing minefield for employers, and it is often difficult to know where to begin. To help, we've put together a mini guide to employees' health insurance plans for SMEs in Hong Kong.