China Expat Employment Contracts: Navigating The Negotiations

Our China employment lawyers frequently review employment documents for expats working or seeking a job in China. By employment documents, I mean all documents pertaining to the employment relationship, including employment contractsemployer rules and regulations, non-compete agreements, and confidentiality and/or IP protection agreements.

Usually the employment documents have both English and Chinese versions in the same document. Sometimes though, an English-only document is provided and the Chinese company says it did that because the expat does not read Chinese. This is not good. You should always request your potential employer give you your employment documents in both Chinese and English because the Chinese portion is almost always going to be the only official version. Beyond getting a Chinese version of your employment documents, you should also request both the Chinese and the English language versions be within the same document as this makes things faster and easier for your lawyer to root out inconsistencies between the two languages and that will save you on attorneys fees. It also makes executing and retaining the documents easier since you (and your employer) need sign and hold onto only one document.

It is also important you ensure the English portion of your employment documents track what the Chinese portion says, both so you know exactly that your employment documents say what you want them to say and so you have in your own language a road map you can use going forward. Our China lawyers are always reviewing bilingual Chinese-English contracts and we nearly always need to revise them to get the two languages to line up in their meanings. Not so coincidentally, the language discrepancies we see virtually always favor the employer.

In addition to helping with contract language, our China employment lawyers also help our expat employee clients navigate the negotiation process. We typically start this by helping negotiate the essential terms surrounding their employment, such as their salary, bonus, commission, and vacation days. Once agreement is reached on these key terms, there should be little need for much further negotiation and the employment contract should be a done-deal. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Chinese company employers to try to reopen negotiations on previously agreed key terms. When this happens, we usually suggest deciding whether it makes sense to work at a company that negotiates like this and we also urge they remain firm in their positions.

When the Chinese company employer provides the first draft of the expat employment contract, we review that to make sure it accurately sets out the agreed upon key terms and is fair to the expat employee in all other respects as well. Further negotiations on minor points is invariably needed at this stage and at this point we typically recommend expat employees prepare a written list with any comments, questions, and requests for their potential employer. We suggest the expat email this to the employer so the discussions can be easily tracked. Sticking to just email makes things faster and easier for your lawyer and thereby helps to keep your attorneys fees down. Trust me when I tell you that piecing together negotiations conducted by email and by telephone and by WeChat is not efficient.

For more on how to negotiate with Chinese companies, I suggest you check out this post on negotiating with Chinese companies.