11 things employers need to know about Hong Kong labor and employment laws


Aug 3, 2023

Navigating the intricacies of labor and employment laws can be a challenging task, particularly in a vibrant and complex business environment like Hong Kong. Missteps can lead to legal penalties, damage to your reputation, and a negative impact on employee morale.

From understanding the basic tenets of the Employment Ordinance and the Minimum Wage Ordinance to knowing the ins and outs of termination procedures and privacy laws, every employer needs to be well-versed in the legal landscape. This guide provides key points about Hong Kong's labor and employment laws, providing valuable insights for employers.

1. Misclassifying employees can cost you

In Hong Kong, there's a legal distinction (in terms of conditions of employment) between employees and independent contractors, a differentiation that has significant legal and financial implications. Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor could be seen as an attempt to bypass obligations such as making Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) contributions or providing a proper contract of employment.

2. Non-compliance with minimum wage is costly

In an effort to protect employees from unreasonably low wages, Hong Kong implemented the Statutory Minimum Wage (SMW) in 2011. The rate, which is reviewed at least once every two years, stands at HKD 40 per hour as of May 1, 2023. Businesses failing to comply with this standard can face legal action, hefty fines, and damage to their reputation. Employers should also remember that wage calculations must include all remuneration, allowances, and benefits, ensuring fair compensation for their employees.

3. Non-compliance with contractual terms and employment conditions can lead to legal troubles

In Hong Kong, the employment contract or contract of employment is a key legal document that outlines the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of both the employer and the employee. This contract lays out conditions of employment like the wage period, working hours, rest periods, leave, and termination terms. A clear understanding of these contractual terms is essential to ensure adherence to Hong Kong’s labor laws. Non-compliance or breach of these terms can lead to legal action.

4. Be transparent about working hours

While there are no specific laws in Hong Kong governing standard working hours, it's important to establish clear expectations from the outset to avoid potential disputes. This includes detailing expected working hours in the employment contract and ensuring fair compensation for any overtime. Transparency is key to building trust and maintaining a healthy employment relationship.

5. Non-compliance with Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) requirements can be penalized

The MPF is a compulsory saving scheme for the retirement of residents in Hong Kong. Both employers and employees, barring a few exemptions, are required to make monthly contributions based on the employee's relevant income.

6. Ensure occupational safety and health

Employers in Hong Kong are mandated to safeguard the health and safety of their employees at work, as outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance. Non-compliance can lead to legal action and substantial penalties. Measures include providing safe machinery and equipment, offering necessary training, and conducting regular risk assessments.

7. Understand the terms of termination and expiry of contracts

The rules for termination of employment contracts in Hong Kong are clear. Unless otherwise stated in the contract of employment, either party can terminate a continuous contract by giving the other party notice or payment in lieu of notice. For a fixed-term contract, the expiry occurs naturally at the end of the term. Summary dismissal is immediate termination in response to severe misconduct and does not require notice or payment in lieu of notice.

8. Non-adherence to maternity and paternity leave provisions can result in penalties

Hong Kong law ensures provisions for maternity and paternity leave for employees, allowing them time off to welcome a new child into their family. These provisions include 14 weeks of maternity leave pay and five days of paternity leave. As of the end of the first month of 2022, nursing mothers are entitled to breastfeeding breaks during working hours. Violation of these rights can lead to penalties including fines and legal action. Employers must familiarize themselves with these provisions and ensure that their policies reflect these rights.

9. Ignoring sick leave laws can lead to legal action

Sick leave and sickness allowance are two critical components of employee welfare as defined in the Employment Ordinance of Hong Kong. Employers are legally bound to grant sick leave and pay a sickness allowance under certain conditions. Ignoring these laws can lead to legal complications, fines, and a deteriorating relationship with the workforce.

10. Adherence to privacy laws is essential

With the growing digitization of employee records, adherence to privacy laws is essential for employers in Hong Kong. The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO) sets out the rules for data protection. Employers need to ensure that the collection, use, and storage of personal data complies with the requirements under the PDPO.

11. Violating anti-discrimination laws can be costly

Hong Kong has enacted strict laws to prevent discrimination in the workplace. These include the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Disability Discrimination Ordinance, Family Status Discrimination Ordinance, and Race Discrimination Ordinance. Violations could involve discrimination based on marital status, gender (including pregnant and breastfeeding women), and family status (including family members such as children or parents). Any violation of these laws can lead to legal action and heavy fines. Employers need to actively foster a diverse and inclusive environment and take swift action to address any form of discrimination.

The Labour Department ensures strict compliance with these MPF regulations and employers failing to make the necessary contributions can find themselves facing severe financial penalties and potential legal action. Businesses should regularly check their MPF obligations and ensure timely and accurate contributions.

As defined by the Labour Department, such misclassification can result in legal complications, penalties, and fines. Employers should take careful steps in classifying their workforce, ensuring that all contracts clearly define the nature of the employment relationship and that they comply with all respective rules and regulations.

FAQs about labor and employment laws in Hong Kong

What are the minimum wages in Hong Kong?

The Statutory Minimum Wage in Hong Kong is HKD 40 per hour as of May 1, 2023. This rate is subject to review every two years.

What are the overtime laws in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong does not have specific legislation governing overtime pay. However, any agreements on overtime should be clearly outlined in the employment contract to ensure fairness and transparency.

What are the required benefits in Hong Kong?

Statutory benefits in Hong Kong include rest days, statutory holidays, paid annual leave, sickness allowance, maternity leave, paternity leave, and Mandatory Provident Fund contributions.

How do I terminate employees in Hong Kong?

Termination procedures in Hong Kong are governed by the Employment Ordinance. Employers must adhere to the stipulated notice period or payment in lieu of notice, make the necessary end-of-year payments or long-service payments, and not engage in any form of unlawful dismissal.

What are the working hours in Hong Kong?

There is no maximum limit on the working hours per week in Hong Kong, but the Standard Working Hours Committee has suggested a 44-hour work week. The actual working hours should be clearly defined in the employment contract.

How is redundancy handled in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong, redundancy is seen as a valid reason for dismissal. Employers must, however, follow specific procedures, which include giving proper notice or payment in lieu of notice and payment of any long service or severance pay due.

What are the rights of pregnant or breastfeeding employees in Hong Kong?

Pregnant employees in Hong Kong are entitled to 14 weeks of maternity leave, paid at four-fifths of their regular wages. They are also protected from termination from the date they confirm their pregnancy to the date they return from maternity leave. Starting from the end of the first month of 2022, employers are required to give nursing mothers breastfeeding breaks.

What are some ways that employees' rights are protected in Hong Kong?

The Labour Tribunal is available to handle claims related to statutory and contractual entitlements. Furthermore, the Minor Employment Claims Adjudication Board adjudicates claims involving small sums or minor employment disputes. There are also specific ordinances in place to safeguard employees’ compensation, data protection, and other rights.

What is a probationary period, and how does it work in Hong Kong?

A probationary period in Hong Kong allows employers and employees to assess their compatibility. During this period, either party can terminate the contract with less notice. The length of the probationary period must be specified in the employment contract and cannot exceed 12 months.

What is the significance of years of service in Hong Kong?

Years of service in Hong Kong determine entitlements such as end-of-year payments, long service payments, and statutory severance payments. The length of service is calculated from the commencement of employment under a continuous contract. It plays a key role in defining an employee's rights and benefits.

What is a trade union and how does it work in Hong Kong?

Trade unions in Hong Kong are legal and are protected by the Employment Ordinance. They provide a platform for employees to collectively bargain and negotiate their working conditions, wage agreements, and more with their employers. Employers need to understand the rights of trade unions and their members.

What are the regulations for hiring non-resident employees in Hong Kong?

Employers intending to hire non-resident workers, including permanent residents, must understand that the Immigration Department oversees their employment. They need to apply for a visa or entry permit before the employee can start working in Hong Kong. Employers should always check the potential employee's immigration status before the commencement of employment.

What is the significance of human resources (HR) in adhering to labor laws in Hong Kong?

Human Resource departments play a critical role in ensuring compliance with labor laws in Hong Kong. From creating contracts of employment to handling termination procedures and managing personal data, the HR department is often the first line of defense against non-compliance. Well-trained HR professionals can help businesses navigate complex employment laws and avoid potential legal complications.

What is the employees’ compensation ordinance in Hong Kong?

The Employees’ Compensation Ordinance in Hong Kong mandates that all employers must have an insurance policy to cover their liabilities under the ordinance. The compensation includes payment for the death or injury of an employee caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of employment.

What is the significance of continuous employment and its period in Hong Kong?

Continuous employment in Hong Kong refers to when an employee works for the same employer for at least 18 hours in each week for four or more consecutive weeks. The continuous period of employment is critical as it determines the employee's entitlement to various statutory benefits, including paid annual leave, sickness allowance, maternity and paternity leave, severance payment, and long service payment.

How are wages determined for male and female employees in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong, gender does not play a role in determining wages for employees. The city has an established minimum wage ordinance applicable to all employees, regardless of their gender. The current statutory minimum wage rate is reviewed at least once every two years. Wages are usually defined in the contract of employment and must not be less than the statutory minimum wage.

What are maternity leave pay rules in Hong Kong?

Female employees in Hong Kong are entitled to 14 weeks of maternity leave if they have been employed under a continuous contract for not less than 40 weeks immediately before the commencement of scheduled maternity leave. The maternity leave pay is four-fifths of the employee's average daily wages earned in the 12-month period preceding the first day of maternity leave. If the employment contract is less than 12 months, then the calculation shall be based on the shorter period.

What is the role of industrial undertakings in Hong Kong's labor laws?

Industrial undertakings are governed by specific regulations under Hong Kong’s labor laws. These include special rules for working hours, rest days, and overtime payment. Employers must adhere to these specific rules and regulations if they operate within industrial sectors as defined by the Employment Ordinance.

What are the employment conditions for hiring fixed-term employees in Hong Kong?

Fixed-term contracts in Hong Kong are typically used for project-based work or seasonal fluctuations where the end date of the contract is known. The conditions of employment, including working hours, remuneration, and termination conditions, must be clearly specified in the contract. The employer's obligations under the Employment Ordinance apply to fixed-term contracts. If a fixed-term contract is continuously renewed, it may be considered a continuous contract under certain conditions.

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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: March 26, 2024

The Author

Carissa Tham

A British Columbia-based tech content strategist and writer, Carissa has lived and worked in Singapore, Taiwan, and Canada. Carissa lends her unique global perspectives to growing Rippling’s brand in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.