‘Measures for unvaccinated staff must be necessary’

The chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Ricky Chu, warned on Saturday that companies risk facing legal challenges, if the measures they have for employees that aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19 are unreasonable and unnecessary.

Businesses in the city have introduced different measures to boost inoculation among their workers, with some warning that staff won’t get pay rises, bonuses, promotions, or may even be sacked for refusing vaccination.

Speaking on a radio show, Chu said employers have the authority to ask their staff to get jabs, but whether the consequences they impose on unvaccinated employees amount to discrimination would depend on individual circumstances.

The head of the equality watchdog said it would not be illegal if the measures were proven to be both reasonable and necessary.

For example, deploying unvaccinated staff to work at other branches of the business wouldn’t be problematic, he said.

Chu added that some industries – such as the catering and tourism sectors – may find it easier to prove the necessity of their measures, because they may not be able to operate if staff aren’t vaccinated.

But he said employers would have a harder case to argue, in cases where they refuse to give out bonuses, or simply fire unvaccinated staff.

“The spirit is not to compel anybody to be subject to any discriminatory treatment. If your measure has only a narrow outlet for your employee to comply, then it may easily be challenged in law,” he said.

“If you are going to compel an employee to vaccinate, then you must have a strong reason that if not vaccinated, then it would cause very serious damage to your business, and that there is no alternative. If there are alternatives, then you should try to accommodate the need of the employees, if they are reasonable,” he said.

On the same programme, Chu also urged Hong Kong to focus making next year’s Gay Games in the city a success.

A controversy has erupted over the games, after pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho said the pro-LGBTQ event “brings dirty moneyā€¯ to the city and will lead to the legalisation of gay marriage here.

The EOC head stressed that the event has nothing to do with promoting same-sex marriage.

While he said Mr Ho’s comments were inappropriate and unnecessary, he admitted there was little that the watchdog could do from a legal standpoint.

“The existing law in Hong Kong does not provide any protection or any regulation on sexual orientation discrimination. Hence the whole matter is outside the purview of the EOC. What we can do is to urge the whole community to focus on the right issue: that is how to make an international event ideally and perfectly conducted,” he said.