Cathay firing unvaxxed staff may have violated discrimination rules, says EOC chair

Cathay Pacific may have violated parts of Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination ordinance after firing its unvaccinated staff with medical conditions, said Ricky Chu Man-kin, Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The Hong Kong airline earlier announced it had fired a “small number” of aircrew for failing to get Covid-19 jabs without a valid medical reason.

Speaking on a radio program this morning, Chu said if staff members who could not meet the company’s requirements due to personal medical conditions were discriminated against – including getting sacked – this may constitute as indirect discrimination.

Indirect discrimination occurs where a requirement or condition is imposed on all employees equally but it has a disproportionate impact on a group of persons who share a protected attribute – like having medical conditions.

However, he stressed it is still too soon to conclude whether the airline had unlawfully discriminated against the employees getting sacked.

“If the vaccination requirement is justifiable and at the same time, employees could not produce relevant medical proof for exemption, along with the airline no longer having the capacity to accommodate them, the airline has not violated the discrimination rules,” said Chu.

The anti-discrimination watchdog suggested that affected staff can reach out to the Commission for help.

According to local reports, a breastfeeding mother was a flight attendant of the airline and is among the employees getting sacked.

She had earlier submitted relevant medical proof issued by doctors stating there were yet to be any medical studies proving the vaccines were safe for breastfeeding mothers, she had also told the airline that she was not refusing to get the jab and will get vaccinated once she ended her breastfeeding ahead of the December deadline.

However, the flight attendant still had her contract terminated by the airline, and she slammed the airline’s move as unreasonable.

Also among the staff getting the boot is another Cathay employee who was found to have heart conditions after being admitted to the hospital in June this year due to chest pain.

The employee had consulted a doctor in mid-July but further medical checks were required for a diagnosis, with the doctor yet to confirm whether the employee could receive the vaccination.

The employee said she eventually still got fired despite having explained the situation to the airline multiple times.

In response, Cathay Pacific said aircrew with medical reasons for not getting vaccinated that were assessed and considered valid by company doctors were not terminated.

The airline said for the past few months, it has actively communicated with Hong Kong-based aircrew that vaccination against Covid-19 would be a job requirement at Cathay Pacific. It has informed employees who may have had concerns about getting vaccinated that free pre-vaccination medical assessment was available before the deadline.

“We are in a service industry and we have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of our employees and our customers, providing assurance to them and giving them confidence that, when they fly with us, they are in safe hands,” the spokesman said.

The airline acknowledged that several cases have already filed with the Labour Department, and said it would not comment further on individual cases.

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