Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

HK reducing misuse of sick leave notes with digital certificate

Experts advise employers to ensure proper data storage in response to the development.

In Hong Kong, employees are only allowed a limited period to turn in a sick leave certificate, some as short as three days, which is why many have welcomed the Hospital Authority’s (HA) move to digitise their medical certificates. 

With HA’s introduction of the e-sick leave certificate, employers need not wait for their employees’ medical certificate via mail or courier and can access it through a QR code.

The e-sick leave certificates will also cut the time HR experts dedicate to verifying the medical document, said Casper Fung, senior consultant at PESOLKELLY. 

Andrea Randall, a partner at RPC Hong Kong law firm who specialises in employment, said that HA’s e-sick certificates allows employers to ensure that their employees’ sick leave records are kept up to date.

“This is a useful development; a paper ticket is subject to theft and loss, but with the HA e-sick certificates, employees can access their certificates electronically anywhere, anytime and share it with their employers immediately,” Randall said.

Under Hong Kong’s employee ordinance, employers are required to “maintain clear and updated records of their employees’ sickness days.”

“In the future, if an employee is granted sick leave after a teleconsultation by the HA, he/she will receive an electronic medical certificate remotely and will not need to return to the hospital or clinic to obtain the paper certificate,” added Randall.

Employers’ responsibility

With the digitalisaton of sick leave certificates, Randall said employers must take steps to safeguard and protect the privacy, security, and confidentiality of their employees’ personal details.

“Employers should ensure proper storage and access to these e-sick certificates, and ensure that such is done so in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance,” the legal expert said.

“Whilst there is no statutory provision regarding the retention of electronic health data specifically, the Code of Practice on Human Resource Management (COP) has set out some guidance regarding the collection, sharing, use, and safekeeping of their employees’ health data,” she added.

According to the COP, employers should put in place an in-house policy to restrict access to, and processing of, personal data of employees on a “need-to-know” and “need-to-use” basis.

This means that data collected from the e-sick leaves must be limited to relevant departments such as the HR or those related to salary calculation, said Fung.

Apart from requirements set by the COP, Fung advised employers to update their employee handbook.

“We suggest that the employer mention that they have the right to verify the e-certificate, and that the employee’s sick leave application will only be confirmed after all the verification is done,” the expert said.

Similar to what the COP states, Fung also recommended that employees provide appropriate training for all their employees on how to handle personal data.

Accessing e-sick leaves

Employers who wish to verify the authenticity of their employees’ e-sick leave certificate may do so by scanning the QR code in the document.

Employers will then have to input their employee’s name and their sick leave date.

“Employers do not have to install additional tools or software to access the HA e-sick certificate,” Randall clarified.

Employees, on the other hand, can access their e-sick certificate through the HA mobile application called HA Go, under the “MyHealth” feature. The certificate will be stored in the “MyRecord” section of the app.

The HA also issues the e-sick certificate electronically and in paper form. “If a patient requires it, the HA will continue to print paper sick leave certificates,” Randall said.

“It follows that employers can expect to receive both paper sick leave certificates as well as HA e-sick leave certificates for the time being,” she added.

Meanwhile, Randall underscored that e-sick leave certificates only apply to those issued by the HA. “Employees will still get paper sick certificates from private hospitals and other private institutions,” she said.

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