Hiring a domestic helper can be an invaluable addition to your family. But it’s also a big responsibility. If you’re swamped by forms and regulations you don’t quite understand the ins and outs of domestic helper salary, statutory holidays, annual leave and food allowances this handy guide will help.
Never hired a domestic helper before? Uncomfortable with the thought of being responsible for another adult in the house? Overwhelmed by the legally-worded contract forms? Don’t worry! In a busy city like Hong Kong, thousands of domestic helpers are employed, taking on chores like cooking, childminding, laundry and much more, and go on to become integral and valuable members of the family. Hiring the right domestic helper can bring you peace of mind and is well worth the sometimes long and tedious process. Here’s all you need to know to get started.
Who can hire a domestic helper in Hong Kong?
Budget: Salary, food allowances and other costs of hiring a domestic helper
Holidays: Annual leave statutory holidays for a domestic helper
Sick leave and maternity leave
Where to hire a domestic helper in Hong Kong
Renewing your domestic helper’s contract
Interview questions for a domestic helper
What to expect when your domestic helper starts work
Ending your Domestic Helper’s Contract
Who Can Hire A Domestic Helper In Hong Kong?
There are some basic requirements you must meet before hiring a domestic helper in Hong Kong:
- You need to be a Hong Kong resident.
- Your monthly household income should be over $15,000.
- You should not be blacklisted for underpaying or any other issue with regard to hiring a helper.
- You need to sign the standard employment contract which clearly states that the helper can work only for you and cannot be asked to work for your friends or relatives.
- You must provide your helper with appropriate accommodation with basic living facilities.
- Compensation insurance for the helper is mandatory; you will be required to take care of her medical expenses as well.
To start the hiring process, you must fill up and sign four copies of the standard employment contract – ID407 (one will be for the helper’s Consulate, one will be with Immigration and the other copies are for the employer and domestic helper respectively). You must also fill out immigration application forms (ID988A and ID988B) and provide a few supporting documents.
Salary, Food Allowance And Other Costs Of Hiring A Domestic Helper In Hong Kong?
The minimum domestic helper salary is $4,630 per month. Domestic helpers are entitled to a food allowance of $1,173 per month or the employer must provide free food.
You will also need to budget for:
- Compensation insurance: this covers your helper in the case of workplace injury or occupational disease
- Medical examination fees (prior to commencement of contract) and ongoing medical care (it’s strongly recommended by the Government that you take our medical insurance for your domestic helper)
- Authentication fees by the relevant consulate
- Visa fee
- One return-trip airfare per contract (one flight to commence employment and another to go home at the end of contract)
Holidays For Domestic Helpers: Annual Leave And Statutory Holidays How Much Annual Leave Is A Domestic Helper In Hong Kong Entitled To?
Domestic helpers are entitled to one rest day in every period of seven days. Most of the time, the rest day is on Sunday but the employer and helper may choose any weekday, based on mutual agreement.
According to the Labour Department, domestic helpers are also entitled to paid annual leave. This is seven days per year in the first and second years of the contract (can be taken during or immediately after the contract finishing), increasing by one day per year of service to a maximum of 14 days per year (for nine years or more of service).
Domestic helpers are also entitled to the 13 statutory holidays set by the Labour Department. This topic often causes a lot of confusion amongst employers as the Government has also set out 17 general holidays – 13 of which are the same as the statutory holidays.
Important to note, Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday and Boxing Day are NOT statutory holidays so it is up to the employer whether to grant these depending on their individual circumstance.
Sick Leave And Maternity Leave For Domestic Helpers
Sick leave for domestic helpers
The Labour Department has determined that domestic helpers accumulate two sick days per month of service in the first year (so 24 days in the first year), and four sick days per month thereafter, up to a maximum of 120 days.
If your helper is taking four days off or more, then the sick leave allowance is four-fifths of their average daily wages. The sick leave should be supported by an appropriate medical certificate.
Maternity leave for domestic helpers
Just like any other employee, domestic helpers are entitled to maternity leave. This is something that can test the helper-employer relationship and so it is necessary to be aware of your responsibilities as an employer.
Your domestic helper is entitled to 14 weeks, continuously paid maternity leave paid at four-fifths the average daily wage (employers may apply to the government for reimbursement of four of those weeks pay). Your helper should have been working for you for more than 40 weeks prior to their intended leave (i.e. gotten pregnant after they took up the position), given notice of intended leave and provided confirmation of pregnancy and expected confinement dates from a doctor.
A couple of things to keep in mind, the live-in rule still applies during pregnancy and maternity leave and you may need to modify your helper’s workload (in regards to lifting objects and exposure to some cleaning products). You’ll also need to provide time to allow her to get to her prenatal medical appointments. Your helper may choose to return home for the birth, and in this case, you’ll need to negotiate an earlier start date of her leave to allow her to safely fly.
Hiring A Domestic Helper In Hong Kong
Domestic Helper Agencies
If you’ve not had a helper before, you can try exploring helper agencies. Reputed ones have huge helper databases with complete information such as their previous employment, reviews, health record and termination contracts (and the reasons given). You can go through the profiles, shortlist some and talk to those who you feel can sync with your family. Agencies will then manage the visa and paperwork process on your behalf. This could cost anywhere from $4,000 (for a finished contract helper already in the city) to $12,000 (for a direct-hire helper from overseas).
There are a lot of agencies operating in Hong Kong but not all are ethical; some have got warnings or licences revoked as a result of unfair practices. Our picks would be our own agency, HelperPlace, as well as Arrow Employment Services and Fair Employment Agency. Take your time to do your research and choose one carefully, because you wouldn’t want your domestic worker to start her journey in the city (and with your family) carrying loans after being exploited by the agency.
Direct Hire Domestic Helpers
You can also hire a helper through references from your colleagues, friends, family or even Facebook. Some online platforms have tools to allow you to easily screen and interview potential helpers. These are really useful if you are looking for a helper who has finished, or is close to finishing, her existing contract. Since she is already in Hong Kong, it helps speed up the hiring process.
How long does the process take?
If you are looking to hire a domestic worker currently overseas, you are required to process her visa through a licensed helper agency. However, if she is from the Philippines and about to finish her current contract in Hong Kong, it might be easier and shorter (2 to 4 weeks), if you can process the contract by yourself (for those in a hurry or familiar with the process, this is often the best option).
The immigration department might take anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks to process helper visa applications, depending on the number of applications. The period may get further extended if the department calls for further investigation. In such cases, obtaining a visa might take even 3 to 4 months.
If you are not familiar with the visa rules or the government criteria, you can always seek the help of a trustworthy agency or contact the immigration department. As mentioned earlier, agency fees can range from $4,000 to $12,000, but a reliable agency may be your best bet if you are hiring for the first time or have no time to do all the processing and paperwork by yourself.
Domestic helper visa rejections
We’re hearing a lot of stories at the moment of domestic helpers visa’s being rejected. This seems to be especially common in the case of terminated contracts for reasons other than relocation.
Renewing Your Domestic Helper’s Contract
To start the process of a contract renewal for your domestic helper you should submit all your paperwork within eight weeks of the current contract expiring. In between contracts, the helper should return to their country of origin for at least seven days, with the travel costs provided by the employer. If mutually agreed, you can apply for an extension of stay (ID988A and ID988B). In this scenario, the helper would normally have to return to their home country within 12 months of the contract starting (although this has been a bit different the past few years with COVID).
Interview Questions For A Domestic Helper
Once you have decided on a candidate, have a detailed discussion with her:
- Check the helper’s previous experience and get to know the skills that she excels in (you could ask her for references).
- Understand the candidate’s job expectations (it’s about her happiness as well!).
- Take her around your house and introduce her to your family members so that she better understands her role and your expectations.
- Be clear with what you want her to do and within what timeframe each task should be completed.
Hire the helper only if you are convinced that it’s a suitable arrangement for both.
What To Expect When Your Domestic Helper Starts Work
Once you are done with all the processing and your helper arrives home, the first thing you need to do is make her feel comfortable in the new environment. Both you and your employee should be patient and understanding of each other’s requirements. The secret to a happy home is having a happy helper.
- Do not ask her to start with the domestic chores on the day she arrives; let her get to know the family instead.
- The first few days might be frustrating; your helper may not know how to use every appliance in your home. Teach her with patience and you will see her respond with interest and dedication.
- English is often not a helper’s first language. Talk slowly and clearly and, as far as possible, use words and terms that she is familiar with.
- Discuss what you and your family members will call her and how she should address you. Minor things like this often bring misunderstandings later on.
- Provide her with clean, well-ventilated and comfortable accommodation. It shows that you care for her comfort and she will care for your family in return.
- Don’t use harsh and abusive words that hurt her emotionally. Be sensitive that she is working away from friends and family and is dependent on you for most things.
- Review her work often. It will be easier to make changes and meet or correct mutual expectations when done on a regular basis, rather than after discontent has been brewing for a while.
Having the support of a trusted helper makes all the difference to the quality of family life that you can get in Hong Kong. We hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship for you and your family.
Ending Your Domestic Helper’s Contract: Terminated Contracts, Finished Contracts, Severence Pay And Long Service Leave
Terminating a domestic helper contract
A domestic helper’s contract can come to an end for several reasons. Some terms you might hear are:
- Finished contract — simply meaning the two-year contract has come to an end
- Terminated by the employer for relocation
- Terminated by the employer or domestic helper for another reason
You or your domestic helper can terminate the contract at any time, so long as they have sufficient reasons, by providing one month’s notice or one month’s pay in lieu of notice.
If there has been serious misconduct by either party the contract can be terminated immediately. This is only applicable in very serious circumstances such as willfully disobeying the law or being guilty of fraud, or if the domestic helper is reasonably in fear for their physical safety or is subjected to mistreatment.
Terminating a domestic helper contract: What happens next?
Your domestic helper will be permitted to stay in Hong Kong for 14 days after the conclusion of a contract. Check the current legislation with the immigration department as this may alter due to COVID-19 restrictions.
You will need to make sure all payments are up-to-date, including any outstanding wages and food allowances, annual leave (paid pro-rata so long as the helper has worked for you more than three months), passage home as well as long service leave (if your helper has worked for you for longer than five years) or severance pay (if the termination is due to redundancy).
It’s worth noting that either long service leave OR severance pay may be applicable, but not both. Check the Hong Kong Labour Department’s FAQs for more details.
There is a wealth of information available from the Labour Department (although some of it can be a bit difficult to decipher!). Check out this Handy Guide For Employers for official explanations and advice on employing a domestic helper in Hong Kong.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June, 2019 by Edouard Muller and updated in February 2022 by Jess Mizzi.