How to Whip Your China Employee Handbook into Shape

If it has been a while (say over a year or longer) since you reviewed and updated your China employer rules and regulations, you should get on it now. Creating employer rules and regulations (a/k/a an employee handbook) takes a fair amount of hard work, but once you have a well-written handbook, updating it should be relatively easier. Here are a few tips to help make this task even easier:

1. Make sure your Chinese version matches your English (or other non-Chinese version), while keeping in mind that Chinese is the controlling language. Both versions should be easy to read and understand. You should assume your readers include Chinese employment authorities and arbitrators and judges, not just company management and employees. For example, if your English version says “3 days”, and your Chinese version says “2 days” or “3 business days,” it is a sign you need to go through your rules and regulations thoroughly to root out translation discrepancies. As our China employer audits often reveal, this sort of basic error is actually quite common and it can sometimes be dangerous.

2. If your employer rules and regulations are in Chinese only and yet your management and HR personnel are not fluent Chinese readers, you should translate it into English or your native language. You as the employer will often need to refer to this document and having a readable and usable document is important.

3. If you do not have the time or budget to check all sections of your rules and regulations, at least review and improve the sections that matter most to managing your China employees. For example, the section on disciplinary actions is often litigated and it is critical all language in that section be legally compliant and make practical sense. Having a poorly crafted disciplinary section frequently gets employers into trouble in China.

4. When an employee commits misconduct that is not well addressed or covered at all in your rules and regulations, just handling that particular employee misconduct is not enough. You should also be sure to update your rules and regulations so that if the same thing happens again, you will be in a better position to respond to it.

5. Look at and consider revising any section of your rules and regulations on which you have received comments, questions or concerns from your employees. Failing to do this can lead to employee disputes and lawsuits and can damage company morale.

6. Words matter. For example, if you want to impose an obligation on your employees, use the word “must” or its equivalent, and as noted above, make sure the Chinese version also says “must” or its equivalent. A common argument made by Chinese employees fired for allegedly failing to do something is that they did not know they were required to do that thing. When you want to make something an employee obligation, merely saying “employees are expected to do it” is not adequate from a Chinese law perspective. Fixing this type of error normally does not take long, but doing so can save you a lot of time and money in employee disputes and lawsuits.

7. Be as specific as possible, especially when it comes to employer actions and especially those that may be considered adverse to your employees. For example, if your rules and regulations say doing certain things are discouraged and just stop there, it is pretty much like saying nothing at all. You need to specify what will happen to the employee if the employee is found doing any of those things.

If you have employees in China, make it a regular task to clean up and improve upon your employer rules and regulations.