With at least ten Chinese cities in lockdown to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Beijing labor authorities just released a notice on stabilizing labor relations during the period of epidemic prevention and control so as to better protect and benefit employees. Here is a quick summary of this notice.
Employers must ensure their employees can enjoy their paid statutory medical leave. If an employee needs to take time off work due to an illness and the employee is eligible for statutory medical leave under the law, the employer must provide the leave in accordance with the national and local law, and the employee’s employment contract. The minimum pay standard in Beijing for the medical leave is no less than 80% of Beijing’s minimum wage (Beijing’s current monthly minimum wage is RMB 2020). However, note that if your employer rules and regulations provide for a company medical leave program more generous than the applicable law, you must follow your own rules and regulations document.
If one of your employees has contracted the virus or come into close contact with a patient or a suspected patient, you must pay the employee his/her normal wages during the periods of quarantine and medical observation.
If a Beijing employee is unable to return to work due to the outbreak, the employer may consider first having the employee use his/her accrued vacation days. If an employee is unable to return to work for an “extended period of time” (whatever that means), the employer may consult with the employee and if the employee agrees, place the employee on standby. During this standby period, the employee shall be provided basic living expenses at a rate of no less than 70% of Beijing’s minimum wage. Though the Beijing Notice does not require this, the employer should enter into a written agreement (in Chinese) with the employee regarding such a standby period so as to avoid potential confusion and disputes. It is not clear what the employer can do if the employee refuses to agree to go on standby. Some possible options include paying the employee his or her normal wages to work remotely (if the employee’s job duties can be performed remotely), or just treating the employee’s absence as additionally provided 100% paid leave. Regardless of what you as an employer choose to do with such an employee, it would be best to have your China HR people or your China employment lawyer seek verbal assent from your local employment bureau regarding legality and then obtain the employee’s clear written consent to the plan.
If an employee is sent on a business trip and then is unable to come back to Beijing due to the outbreak, the employee needs to be paid his/her normal wages during the period of absence.
An employer affected by the current situation may apply to the labor authorities for implementation of the comprehensive working hours system for eligible employees in order to maintain normal production and operation. Once approved, this alternative working hours system will allow the employer flexibility to arrange employees’ shifts and rest times so as to minimize overtime pay/liabilities. Beijing employment authorities are expected to process these applications in a “streamlined fashion” (whatever that means). In addition, they will strengthen monitoring and supervision efforts, all to ensure effective protection of the employees’ legal rights and interests.
If you are an employer in Beijing, be sure to comply with the above. If you are an employer outside Beijing, you should monitor notices from your local employment bureau, stay in good touch with your local employment bureau, and be very mindful of any employment decisions you make during this time.