At the beginning of every year, our lawyers receive hundreds of emails from both employees and employers (clients and non-clients) doing business in China. The questions often involve employees who want to change jobs or employers who are having a hard time understanding China’s employment laws.
Unfortunately, we can rarely provide instantaneous answers to their questions. In addition to the complexity of Chinese law at the national level, there are seemingly endless legal twists and turns at the local level as well.
For example, one of our regular blog readers asked about issues related to volunteering for a company that was not his employer. He worked for a U.S. Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE) and had a residence permit. His questions included:
- Do I need a certificate or other documentation to allow me to volunteer at the company one day a week?
- Do I have to ask my current employer for permission to volunteer at another company?
- If the company decides to start paying me for my work, would that interfere with my relationship with my existing employer?
Another asked whether her employer was justified in terminating her while she was three months pregnant and gave her two months severance. She wanted to know whether her employer was within its rights and whether she should sue it.
Though these sorts of emails may seem to pose straightforward questions, here’s just a sampling of the information our China employment lawyers would need before being able to provide any meaningful guidance:
- We’d need to know the name and location of his employer and run a conflict check on that company.
- Since employment laws in China often vary greatly from city to city, simply understanding the laws in an unfamiliar city can require extensive research.
- A key aspect of understanding local laws and regulations is actually discussing them with the appropriate governmental authorities.
- The specific contract with the employer would also have to be reviewed in detail.
As you can see, there’s almost no such thing as an easy question when it comes to labor laws in China.
Our firm’s Dan Harris wrote an article for Forbes Magazine last year on China’s Hourly Work Week: Think Locally, explaining how something as seemingly simple as the 40-hour workweek trips up employers that don’t take the time to learn the ins and outs of local employment laws. Do your research before making employment moves and don’t make the mistake of believing it will be easy.