Severe tropical storm Ma-on is approaching Hong Kong. The Labour Department has reminded employers to make prior work arrangements for staff to ensure the safety of employees and smooth operation of establishments.
The Hong Kong Observatory issued the Strong Wind Signal No. 3 at 12.40pm on 24 August 2022. According to the forecast, severe tropical storm Ma-on is expected to be closest to Hong Kong in the morning of 25 August 2022. The Observatory will consider issuing the No. 8 Gale or Storm Signal between 6pm and 9pm on 24 August 2022.
The Labour Department (LD) reminded employers to make prior work arrangements for staff during and after tropical cyclone warnings, including arrangements on reporting for duty, release from work, resumption of work and work from home (if applicable) to ensure the safety of employees and smooth operation of establishments.
The LD spokesperson said employers should draw up the relevant work arrangements and contingency measures in consultation with employees. In implementing work arrangements, employers should give prime consideration to employees' safety, give consideration as much as possible to the different situations faced by individual employees, and adopt a sympathetic and flexible approach with due regard to their actual difficulties and needs.
The work arrangements should cover the following matters:
- Arrangements in respect of reporting for duty;
- Arrangements in respect of early release from work;
- Arrangements in respect of resumption of work (e.g. the number of hours within which employees should resume duty after the warning concerned is cancelled, and when safety and traffic conditions allow);
- Arrangements in respect of work from home (e.g. duty and work arrangements during and after tropical cyclone and rainstorm warnings);
- Arrangements regarding working hours, wages and allowances (e.g. calculation of wages and allowances in respect of reporting for duty and absence); and
- Special arrangements in respect of essential staff in times of adverse weather.
In addition, employers should take note that:
- When a Pre-No. 8 Special Announcement is issued during working hours, indicating a further worsening of weather conditions, employers should release employees from work in stages or arrange for them to work from home as soon as practicable.
- The following employees should be given priority to leave:
- employees who have mobility problems (for example, pregnant employees or those with disability),
- employees who rely on transport services which are prone to being affected by adverse weather conditions (for example, ferry services) for commuting to and from work, and
- those who work in or are living in remote areas (for example, outlying islands).
- Other employees should be released later in stages according to their travelling distance or the time required for returning home.
- The following employees should be given priority to leave:
- Employers should conduct a timely and realistic assessment of whether there is any need for requiring essential staff to report for duty at workplaces when a tropical cyclone or rainstorm warning is in force. Considerations include:
- the safety of employees,
- the feasibility for employees to travel to and from their workplaces or work from home in adverse weather,
- business nature,
- operational needs, and
- urgency of service.
- Under special situations, if it is necessary for employees to report for duty at workplaces under adverse weather conditions, employers should discuss with them in advance the duty arrangements and contingency measures, and the number of essential staff at workplaces should be kept to the minimum as far as possible.
- When weather conditions continue to worsen and public transport services are to be suspended or limited shortly, employers should release their staff early or arrange for them to work from home as soon as practicable, and provide safe transport services for employees travelling to and from workplaces, or grant them an extra travelling allowance.
"As typhoons and rainstorms are natural occurrences that cannot be avoided, for employees who are not able to report for duty or resume work on time due to adverse weather conditions, employers should not withhold their wages, good attendance bonuses or allowances without reasons," the spokeperson reminded.
"Employers should enquire into the reasons and give due consideration to the exceptional circumstances in each case and should not penalise or dismiss the employee concerned rashly."
Regarding the major principles, the framework, the reference guidelines and information on relevant legislation on making work arrangements, employers may refer to the "Code of Practice in Times of Typhoons and Rainstorms" published by the LD.
Employers should observe the statutory liabilities and requirements under the Employment Ordinance, the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance, the Employees' Compensation Ordinance and the Minimum Wage Ordinance. Employers should also note that they have an obligation to provide and maintain a safe working environment for their employees under the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance.
[Read more here about the three laws to be aware of when drawing up your typhoon policy]
Under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance, employers are liable to pay compensation for death or injury incurred when employees are travelling by a direct route from their residence to their workplace, or from their workplace back to their residence after work, four hours before or after working hours on a day when T8 or higher or a Red or Black Rainstorm Warning Signal is in force, or within the period (including any extended period) during which “extreme conditions” that arise from a super typhoon or other natural disaster of a substantial scale exist as specified in an “extreme conditions” announcement.
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