Every China employer should have a set of rules and regulations (a/k/a an employee handbook) setting out employee duties and obligations. This document should cover all types of employees, including part-time employees. It also should at minimum, cover the following:
- employee evaluations, especially end-of-probation reviews
- protection measures on company’s confidential information (trade secrets) and property
- employee benefits program(s)
- special leave such as maternity leave
- vacation days
- rest and working time
- disciplinary actions for employee’s breaches
Many foreign employers wrongly assume that whatever they use in their home country is good enough for their China employee manual. This is virtually never true as the reason for having employee manuals is so different as between China and Western countries. Western companies often learn too late about these differences when one of their employees leaves or is terminated.
The following are seven common myths our China lawyers often hear about China employer rules and regulations:
Myth 1: It need not be in Chinese. Though having your rules and regulations entirely in English will not necessarily invalidate the entire document (this depends on where you are), it needs to be in Chinese so your employees can understand it. If you do not have a Chinese language version of your rules and regulations, you run the risk of a Chinese court finding it not binding on your employees because they could not understand it and you didn’t bother explaining it to them. Also, the local labor authorities may require a Chinese translation for audit purposes and you don’t want to be caught flat-footed when that happens. And whatever you do, do not just take your English language version and pay a translator to put it into Chinese. Your Chinese language rules and regulations are what the courts will be looking at to determine whether you acted properly or not, so you want that document to be written clearly (and in Chinese) for this purpose.
Myth 2: It need not be in English. You really should have an English translation done and make sure that too is good. You as the employer will need to refer to this document in making employee decisions (especially termination decisions). Unless all of your people who will be making these decisions are fluent in written Chinese, you need a well-written English version to serve as your roadmap on how to handle all sorts of decisions regarding your employees.
Myth 3: It need not be updated because it has a provision that says the outdated sections will automatically be replaced and superseded by then-current laws. Wrong. Both nationally and at the local level, China’s employment laws are constantly changing. It therefore behooves you to do an annual internal audit of the key elements of your employer-employee situation and this yearly employer review should include a review and an updating of your rules and regulations. You could be exposed to huge risks if you have been relying on a section that is contrary to the law. More on this in Myth 5. We also fairly often see rules and regulations that made sense for a company that had employees in just one China city, but no longer do now that the company has employees in three cities.
Myth 4: Employers do not need to follow any procedures in implementing the rules and regulations. You must make your rules and regulations available to every employee so they have an opportunity to read it before signing off on it. And if there is a worker’s union at your organization, you should hold meetings with them and obtain their comments and suggestions before implementing your rules and regulations.
Myth 5: By signing an acknowledgment of receipt, the employee agrees to everything in your rules and regulations, so it doesn’t matter if it conflicts with the law. Not sure why, but our China lawyers have been hearing this myth more frequently of late and it too is just plan wrong. Very wrong. Having a section in your rules and regulations that contravenes the law probably will not invalidate your entire document (though it conceivably could), but many China employment laws must be followed and cannot be contracted away. It does not matter that the employee gives his or her written consent, and it also does not matter that the employee acknowledged that he or she executed the written consent as a free and voluntary act.
Myth 6: Once published, employers can change anything they want at anytime without any notice because the employees are responsible for keeping up to date with the amendments. First, if your rules and regulations document sets forth an internal procedure for amending the rules and regulations, you should follow that. We usually recommend our clients give notice to their employees of any proposed change before implementation. For important issues concerning employees’ interests such as compensation, working time, rest and vacation time, labor security and health, insurance and benefits, employee training, labor discipline, the safest route is to give them prior notice before amending the rules, especially if the changes may have an adverse impact on them. At the very least, provide the employees with notice of the change and give them an opportunity to comment and ask questions. Doing this simple thing can only help you down the road.
Myth 7: The employment contract between the employer and the employee always takes precedence over the rules and regulations if there is any conflict between them. Wrong. Like so much else related to China’s employment laws, the legal interaction between your rules and regulations and your employee contracts depends on your location. The local law may require that the employment contract prevail over the rules and regulations even if the employer and the employee have a written agreement stating otherwise. Or the law may say that the employee gets to decide which to apply based on which the employee believes is more favorable to him or her and the employer has no say on that. The key here is that you know the legal situation in your relevant jurisdiction(s) and to the extent allowed by law, you make clear in both your rules and regulations and in your employment agreements how your rules and regulations interact with your employment contracts.
For more myths about China employment laws, check out: