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Employee Rights and Protections

Explore workers' rights and legal protections in China


An employer can terminate an employee's contract under three main categories:

Termination with Notice or Severance Pay

This applies in situations where the termination isn't due to the employee's misconduct. Examples include:

  • Employee illness or injury rendering them unfit for work
  • Employee incompetence despite receiving training or a job transfer
  • Significant unforeseen changes that prevent fulfilling the labor contract

Termination During Probationary Period

Probationary periods allow employers to assess suitability. During this time, employers can terminate without providing a reason, though employees must receive notice based on the contract length.

Immediate Termination for Just Cause

This applies to serious employee misconduct, such as:

  • Violence in the workplace
  • Fraud
  • Severe violation of company regulations

Notice Requirements

The required notice period for termination depends on the situation and contract type:

  • Fixed-Term Contracts: Notice periods typically range from 30 to 90 days.
  • Open-Ended Contracts:
    • Probationary Period: Employees need three days' notice.
    • After Probation: Employers must provide notice ranging from 30 days for short-term employees to up to six months for long-term employees.

Employers can offer severance pay in lieu of notice.

Severance Pay

The amount of severance pay depends on the reason for termination and the employee's length of service.

  • Termination with Notice: Employers may need to provide one month's salary on top of the notice period.
  • Redundancy: In cases of mass layoffs, specific severance packages are mandated by law.


Several key characteristics are protected under Chinese law, including gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, and rural Hukou status. The Labor Law (1994) prohibits discrimination based on gender in areas like recruitment, wages, and promotions. The 2022 Protection of Women's Rights and Interests Law further strengthens protections against sexual harassment. The Constitution (1982) and the Labor Law (1994) forbid discrimination against individuals based on their ethnicity or race. The Regulation on Employment Service and Employment Management offers protection to people with disabilities, mandating employers to include a minimum quota of 1.5% of disabled persons in their workforce. The Constitution (1982) guarantees freedom of religious belief, implying protection from discrimination based on religion. However, enforcement can be uneven. The Regulation on Employment Service and Employment Management prohibits discrimination against migrant workers from rural areas.

Protected Characteristics

It's important to note that some characteristics, like age, sexual orientation, and HIV/AIDS status, are not currently explicitly protected under comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.

Redress Mechanisms

Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against can pursue remedies through several channels:

  • Labor Dispute Arbitration: Employees can file complaints with labor dispute arbitration committees.
  • Litigation: Individuals can take legal action against the discriminating party in the People's Courts. However, such lawsuits are reportedly rare due to factors like low compensation awards.
  • Complaints to Government Agencies: Individuals can lodge complaints with relevant government bodies like the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Employer Responsibilities

Chinese law places specific obligations on employers to prevent and address discrimination:

  • Non-discrimination in Recruitment and Employment Practices: Employers are prohibited from using discriminatory criteria in job postings, interviews, hiring decisions, and workplace policies.
  • Reasonable Accommodation: Employers may be required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

While China's anti-discrimination framework offers certain protections, there are limitations. The lack of a comprehensive law and the emphasis on specific characteristics can leave gaps. Additionally, enforcement mechanisms are still developing.

Working conditions

In China, the Labor Contract Law (2008) mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours, with no more than 8 hours per day. Overtime work is permitted under specific circumstances, with limitations. Employers can extend working hours by 1 hour per day, with a maximum of 3 hours per month and 36 hours per year, after consultation with labor unions. Overtime work must be compensated at a premium rate, ranging from 150% to 300% of regular wages depending on the day and holiday status. Alternative working hour systems exist, requiring employer agreements with trade unions to ensure employee rest time.

Rest Periods

The Labor Law (2008) guarantees employees at least one rest day per week. China observes various national holidays, during which work is prohibited or significantly reduced. Employees receive regular pay for these holidays.

Ergonomic Requirements

China has established workplace safety laws that outline general ergonomic requirements. However, specific regulations regarding workstation setup and equipment are limited. Employers hold some responsibility for providing a safe work environment. This may include ensuring proper workstation design and addressing potential ergonomic hazards upon employee notification. Enforcement of ergonomic standards can vary depending on the industry and workplace size.

Health and safety

In China, employers bear a significant responsibility for ensuring a safe and healthy work environment. The Law on Work Safety (2008) outlines these obligations:

Risk Assessments and Safe Work Procedures

Employers are required to conduct risk assessments for their workplaces and establish safe work procedures to minimize hazards.

Safety Training and Education

Regular safety training and education must be provided to employees. This equips workers with the knowledge and skills to identify and avoid workplace risks.

Provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employers must furnish employees with appropriate PPE based on the specific job hazards. This could include items like safety glasses, masks, respirators, or ear protection.

Accident Reporting and Investigation

Employers have a legal duty to report workplace accidents to the relevant authorities and conduct thorough investigations to prevent future occurrences.

Chinese employees also enjoy specific rights concerning workplace health and safety:

Right to a Safe Work Environment

Employees have the legal right to work in an environment free from foreseeable hazards. This empowers them to refuse unsafe work practices without fear of reprisal.

Access to Safety Information and Training

Employees have the right to access safety information and participate in workplace safety training programs offered by their employers.

Right to Report Unsafe Conditions

Employees can report unsafe working conditions to their supervisors, labor unions, or relevant government agencies.

Several government bodies oversee workplace health and safety regulations in China:

Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM)

The MEM is the primary government agency responsible for overseeing workplace safety regulations. It issues safety regulations, conducts inspections, and investigates accidents.

Local Work Safety Bureaus

Local bureaus enforce national safety regulations at the provincial and municipal levels.

Labor Unions

Labor unions play a crucial role in advocating for employee safety and health. They can participate in workplace safety inspections and raise concerns with employers and government agencies.

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