Employee vs. contractor: how to classify workers in Hong Kong


Jul 20, 2023

When managing your business's workforce in Hong Kong, one of the most crucial steps is correctly classifying your workers. The landscape of Hong Kong’s employment law is intricate, shaped by statutory requirements, and influenced by a series of court rulings over time. Understanding these classifications and the laws that govern them is critical to ensure the legal and ethical treatment of your employees and to protect your business from potential penalties.

In Hong Kong, workers generally fall into two main categories: employees and contractors. While they may appear similar in practice, the legal and financial implications for each are significantly different.

What is an employee in Hong Kong?

Under the Hong Kong Employment Ordinance, an employee is an individual who has entered into or works under a contract of employment. This contract can be verbal or written, full-time or part-time, and can be continuous or for a fixed term.

Employees in Hong Kong are entitled to statutory benefits such as annual leave, sickness allowance, maternity and paternity leave, severance payment, and long service payment. They are also protected by statutory rules regarding rest days, working hours, and termination of employment.

Employers have a significant degree of control over the activities of an employee. This control includes not only what tasks the worker performs but also how, when, and where they perform these tasks.

Employees are covered under the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance, meaning employers are obligated to take out an employees’ compensation insurance policy to cover any injury or death that arises out of the course of employment.

Furthermore, employers have to contribute to the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF), a compulsory saving scheme for the retirement of residents in Hong Kong, for any employee who has been employed for 60 days, irrespective of part-time or full-time employment.

What is a contractor in Hong Kong?

Contractors, often referred to as independent contractors, are self-employed individuals or entities contracted to perform work for a company. The key distinction between a contractor and an employee is the degree of control the company has over the worker. While companies dictate the outcome or output of a contractor's work, they typically do not oversee the process or dictate the hours of work.

Unlike employees, contractors are not entitled to statutory benefits such as annual leave, sick leave, and severance pay. They operate under a contract for services and are generally hired for a specific task or project.

Contractors are not covered under the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance. As self-employed individuals, they are required to take care of their own income tax filings with the Inland Revenue Department. They are also required to make their own contributions to the Mandatory Provident Fund.

Worker classification overview: Employees vs contractors in Hong Kong

To clarify the distinctions between employees and contractors, the following table provides a summary:




Entitled to statutory benefits such as annual leave, sickness allowance, maternity/paternity leave, and severance pay

Not entitled to statutory benefits

Contract Type

Contract of employment

Contract for services

Degree of Control

Employer has significant control over tasks, working hours, and methods

Employer controls only the outcome, not the process or working hours

MPF Contributions

Employer and employee each contribute to Mandatory Provident Fund

Self-employed individuals make their own MPF contributions

Employees' Compensation Ordinance

Covered under the ordinance; employers are obligated to provide insurance

Not covered under the ordinance

How to classify your global workers in 90 seconds

Are you classifying your workers correctly? Find out now.

Accurately classifying your employees and contractors is crucial for complying with employment regulations in Hong Kong and around the world. With our free classification quiz, you can mitigate the potential business risks and ensure you’re correctly classifying employees and contractors—in just 90 seconds.

Penalties for misclassifying workers in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, misclassifying an employee as a contractor can lead to significant penalties and repercussions. Misclassification can result in non-compliance with the Employment Ordinance and the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Ordinance, which can lead to financial penalties, legal disputes, and reputational damage.

If an employer fails to contribute to an employee's MPF scheme or provide the benefits and protections entitled to employees under the law, they may be liable to pay the employee's outstanding benefits and a sum of compensation. Further, employers may face penalties including fines and imprisonment for severe cases.

In addition, employers may face claims for employees’ compensation in case of injury or death in the course of employment if the worker was misclassified as a contractor.

Therefore, it's crucial for employers to conduct a comprehensive review of their working arrangements and seek legal advice to ensure proper worker classification.

Here are some questions employers should consider:

  • Does the employer control the worker's working hours, location, and manner of work?
  • Does the worker use their own equipment?
  • Is the worker engaged for a specific task or project, or do they have an ongoing role within the business?
  • Is the worker free to offer their services to others or are they dedicated to the one employer?
  • Can the worker delegate or subcontract the work?

The ultimate goal is to assess whether the overall impression of the relationship is more akin to an employment relationship or a contractor relationship.

Remember, this information is intended as a general guide, and specific circumstances may vary. It's always best to seek professional advice for your situation.

Meeting minimum wage requirements

In Hong Kong, the statutory minimum wage is HKD 40 per hour as of 2023. Both full-time and part-time employees, under an employer-employee relationship, are covered under the Minimum Wage Ordinance. For employers, understanding these requirements helps ensure proper remuneration, fair treatment, and avoids potential misclassification.

Understanding statutory holidays in Hong Kong

For full-time employees in Hong Kong, the law mandates the observance of 12 statutory holidays. These range from New Year's Day to Lunar New Year's Day and special days like the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day. As an employer, knowing these holidays is crucial as it impacts scheduling, pay calculations, and general compliance with labor laws.

Clarifying the position of freelancers

In Hong Kong, freelancers are classified as self-employed individuals. This status implies that they are responsible for their own tax returns, contribute to the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) on their own, and do not have access to the statutory benefits that regular employees enjoy. Understanding this distinction can help avoid potential legal hurdles and ensure correct worker classification.

The significance of continuous contracts

In the realm of Hong Kong employment law, a “continuous contract” refers to an employment arrangement where the worker provides at least 18 hours of service a week, over a period of at least four weeks. Workers under such contracts are entitled to rest days, paid annual leave, and statutory holidays, reflecting their full-time employment status. This aspect is important to consider when determining whether a worker is a part-time or full-time employee.

Navigating the gig economy in Hong Kong

The gig economy is on the rise globally, and Hong Kong is no exception. A surge in flexible employment arrangements has led to an increased number of freelancers and self-employed persons. While this trend offers more flexibility for workers and businesses alike, it also poses new challenges in terms of worker classification and legal responsibilities.

The lines distinguishing employees from independent contractors can become less clear in the gig economy. A worker might be officially classified as an independent contractor, yet the level of control exercised by the employer might resemble an employer-employee relationship.

The landscape gets more complex when you consider jurisdictional nuances. A Labour Tribunal in Hong Kong may interpret a worker's employment status differently from a court in another jurisdiction, given the same set of facts. This highlights the importance of getting professional legal advice, especially in ambiguous situations.

For instance, firms like the renowned Poon partnership specialize in Hong Kong employment law and can provide valuable insights. They can help navigate the complexities of the local labor market and offer guidance on worker classification.

Navigating these complex terrains of worker classification requires a keen understanding of Hong Kong employment laws, local practices, and an eye for the broader trends shaping the world of work. Whether you are a local entity or a global company looking to expand into Hong Kong, classifying your workers correctly is an integral part of your business strategy. It's not just about compliance; it's about creating a fair and supportive work environment that aligns with your business values.

Hire and pay contractors in Hong Kong with Rippling—quickly and compliantly

Running a global workforce is hard work—especially when it comes to understanding and complying with local labor laws.

But with Rippling, you can onboard and pay contractors in Hong Kong in a single system with localized onboarding, flexible payments in local currency or USD, and country-specific consulting agreement templates. 

See Rippling in action today.

Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, or accounting 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: July 24, 2023

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.