On 18 May 2023, the Fanling Magistrates’ Court fined Hong Kong Secoo Investment Group Limited HK$145,000 for failing to pay the wages of eleven of its employees on time. This was a prosecution brought by the Labour Department against the Hong Kong employer for late payment of wages amounting to HK$690,000. The company pleaded guilty to the offence of failing to make timely payment of its employees’ wages.  

Under section 23 of the Employment Ordinance, an employer is required to pay their employees’ wages as soon as they become due and, in any case, not later than 7 days following the end of the wage period. A breach of section 23 attracts both criminal and civil liability.

Following the prosecution, the Labour Department warned employers that it will not tolerate late payment of wages to employees and will spare no effort in enforcing the law and safeguarding employees’ statutory rights. The prosecution serves to remind all employers of the importance of making timely wage payments to their employees.

In this case, the Labour Department only prosecuted the company. The Court’s fine of HK$145,000 was at the lower end of the scale as an employer which wilfully and without reasonable excuse contravenes section 23 of the Employment Ordinance is liable to a maximum fine of HK$350,000 and imprisonment of up to 3 years. Where an offence is proven to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the company, such individual can also be held personally liable and be imprisoned for the late payment of wages.

It is important that employers and all officers of an employing entity understand their liability for making payments to employees on time and the consequences of any breach of their obligations under the Employment Ordinance. For further information, please contact Jezamine Fewins, Partner and Head of Litigation, or Joanne Chan, Associate.