To tackle the unemployment and loss of income caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has introduced an HK$80 billion Employment Support Scheme (ESS) as part of the second round of anti-pandemic relief measures. The ESS aims to provide time-limited financial support in the form of wage subsidies to eligible employers to allow them to retain employees.
On 4 February 2020 Hong Kong reported its first fatality relating to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 has caused serious disruption to the Hong Kong economy and has had a considerable impact on the workforce. This article sets out some of the key issues that employers should consider in dealing with the outbreak, particularly with regard to discrimination, data privacy issues and employees' right to refuse work.
Since June 2019, Hong Kong has faced ongoing protest action. These protests were initially directed at the enactment of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, but their scope has subsequently expanded. This situation has created serious challenges for employers trying to manage and protect their employees. As these protests continue, employers must understand what they can and cannot do.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in the European Union in 2018. At its core, the GDPR aims to give individuals more control over the way in which their personal data is collected, retained, managed and processed. Despite being an EU regulation, the GDPR's application extends to companies in Hong Kong and employers there should thus be aware of what they must do to comply with it.
The Court of Final Appeal recently handed down a landmark judgment in favour of the LGBT community. Employers are recommended to review their policies to ensure that they are in line with the principles laid down in the decision. In particular, employers should ensure that spousal employment benefits (eg, those set out in employment contracts) also apply to same-sex spouses, in addition to opposite-sex spouses.
In Hong Kong, an employment contract can be terminated by either the employer or the employee by giving the other party notice or making a payment in lieu of notice. A payment in lieu of notice is calculated by reference to the average daily wages earned by the employee in the 12 months preceding the day on which notice of termination is given. It is therefore important to understand what is meant by 'wages' under the Employment Ordinance.
Since 2014 the Labour Tribunal has had the power to order parties to provide security for awards or orders. The grounds for making such an order are relatively broad and give the tribunal considerable discretion. However, there has been little case law on how this discretion should be exercised. A recent Court of First Instance decision sheds some light on this area of law.
The Hong Kong Insurance Authority (HKIA) will take over the regulation of insurance intermediaries from the three self-regulatory organisations in mid-2019. Given that there are several sets of competence standards across these organisations, it is necessary to consolidate and update them in line with the statutory requirements to improve protection for policyholders. As such, the HKIA recently held a public consultation on two guidelines under the Insurance Ordinance (Cap 41).
A Hong Kong court recently considered the enforcement of a non-solicitation clause against an employee who was employed as a delivery worker. The court's observations in this case as regards the enforceability of non-solicitation clauses reiterate the well-established position that employers have no right to be protected against competition per se.
In Hong Kong, there is an increasing emphasis on the importance of reciprocal duties of trust and confidence between employers and employees. 'Moonlighting' employees (even ones who take up ancillary employment with a non-direct competitor) often sit in a legally precarious position, since questions are bound to arise in relation to their fiduciary duties, restrictive covenants and the implied term of trust and confidence.
The Hong Kong Insurance Authority (HKIA) has achieved a consensus with the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission that the latter will provide preferential treatment to Hong Kong reinsurers by reducing the reinsurance credit risk requirement under China's Risk-Oriented Solvency System for mainland insurers that use Hong Kong reinsurers authorised by the HKIA. This new arrangement should improve Hong Kong's credentials as an Asian reinsurance hub.
The Basic Law states that "the freedom of marriage of Hong Kong residents and their right to raise a family freely shall be protected by law". This protection is understood to be limited to marriage between monogamous heterosexual couples, which has led to debate on the equal treatment of homosexual couples. The principal issue is that treating same-sex relationships differently is discriminatory. The Court of Appeal recently considered this issue from an employment perspective.
The Hong Kong Insurance Authority recently released a draft guideline on enterprise risk management as part of Hong Kong's move towards a risk-based capital regime. The draft guideline considers the recent consultation and review of the relevant insurance core principles by the International Association of Insurance Supervisors and aims to nurture a strong risk culture which reflects the values, attitudes and norms of business behaviour.
The Competition Commission recently issued an advisory bulletin on the potential risks that could arise under the Competition Ordinance (Cap 619) in the employment context. The commission identified a number of practices between employers which are at risk of contravening the First Conduct Rule of the ordinance – specifically, wage-fixing and non-poaching agreements and the exchange of sensitive information.
In a recent case, a senior employee was found to have acted as a de facto director of the plaintiff company as a result of her position and responsibilities within the company. Consequently, the employee was held to have breached the fiduciary duties which she owed to the company by diverting business opportunities away from it and making unauthorised use of its resources.
Lawmakers recently met to discuss a new bill to establish a policyholders' protection scheme to protect policyholders' interests in case an insurer becomes insolvent. This safety net will cover individuals, small and medium-sized enterprises and building owners' corporations. All authorised insurers in Hong Kong will have to participate and pay an initial levy to build up the two compensation funds – namely, the life fund (for long-term policies) and the non-life fund (for general policies).
If a policyholder is dissatisfied with the conduct of an insurer, agent or broker, there are various channels for making a complaint. One such channel is the Insurance Claims Complaints Bureau, which was recently revamped to provide Hong Kong's insurance industry with improved methods of settling personal insurance claims and disputes by providing policyholders with an alternative dispute resolution process.
The Insurance Authority has launched two new initiatives to promote the use of 'insurtech' in Hong Kong and encourage insurers and technology companies to team up to develop innovative insurance technology in light of recent market trends. The initiatives aim to promote the development of new technologies in Hong Kong's insurance sector and maintain Hong Kong's competitiveness in the Asian market.
The Insurance Authority will begin to collect a levy from policyholders through premium payments to insurers from January 1 2018. Holders of life insurance policies and general insurance policies (eg, travel, motor, property and household) will be required to pay the levy; however, reinsurers, policies underwritten by captive insurers and marine, aviation and goods-in-transit businesses are exempt.
The Insurance Agents Registration Board recently initiated disciplinary proceedings against a former AIA International Limited agent for breaches of the Code of Practice issued by the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers. The resulting disciplinary action included a payment order of HK$806,200 against AIA; however, this decision was reversed by the Court of First Instance following a judicial review.