As the end of the year is fast approaching, regardless of whether you are conducting a year-end employer-employee audit, now is a good time to update and refine your China employee rules and regulations. As this is usually (and should be) a much longer document than your employee contracts, doing this will probably take a fair amount of work. To make this task just a little bit easier, I suggest you focus on the following eight basic things to do to whip your China employee rules and regulations into shape for the new year:
- Make sure the Chinese version of your document is in tip-top shape. Far too many companies have a non-lawyer translate their rules and regulations into Chinese and far too many companies therefore have Chinese language rules and regulations that are not appropriately written for a court or other tribunal. Make sure this is not the case for yours and while you are doing so, check it for typos, etc. You should also make sure that your Chinese version lines up with your English version. For example, if your English version says “do not”, and your Chinese says “do,” you know there is something wrong (I see this sort of basic error all the time when conducting employer-employee audits).
- If your company’s rules and regulations are in Chinese only, you really should have an English translation done. You as the employer will need to refer to this document when you make most employee decisions and unless all of your employees who will be making these decisions are fluent in written Chinese, you need a well-written version in English as well.
- Focus first on the sections of your rules and regulations that matter most to your managing your China employees. This means you can for the most part gloss over any mission statement. Focus instead on sections where any failure to follow that which is written will get you into big trouble. When I am asked by a company to review their rules and regulations to let them know if it will work for China, the first thing I look at is the section on disciplinary actions because it is that section which is so often litigated. If that section is not well-crafted, I immediately know revising the rules and regulations is in order.
- If there is a section of your rules and regulations on which your employees are frequently commenting, questioning or voicing their concerns, this is a section you should be reviewing and probably revising.
- If you are seeing employee infractions that are not well addressed or addressed at all in your rules and regulations, put something in there for those or fix what is already there. Do this before one of your employees commits this infraction again you find yourself (again) in a situation where you are powerless to do something about it.
- Make sure you use the appropriate word/phrase in your rules and regulations to actually accomplish what you are seeking to accomplish. If you want to impose an obligation on your employees, make sure you use the word “must” and as noted above, make sure the Chinese version also says “must.” Saying “employees are expected to do something” does not usually cut it, and yet our China employment lawyers see language like this all the time in rules and regulations. If all you want to do is encourage your employees to do something, fine, but your rules and regulations are almost never the best (or even the right) place to do that. The rules and regulations are called rules and regulations for a reason and they should be used to clearly delineate what your employees must do and must not do and to make clear the repercussions for violations. If your rules and regulations say “DO NOT DO XXX!!!”, and then do not make clear that doing XXX will lead to termination, you likely cannot legally terminate an employee who does XXX no matter how large the font or how many exclamation points you use.
- Remove from your rules and regulations anything that no longer complies with China’s ever shifting labor laws. And when I say China labor laws, I mean any applicable national, regional or local law. See China Employment Law: Local and Not So Simple. Just by way of one very common example: if your rules and regulations provide for termination for an infraction that is not a terminable offense where your employees are located, there is a good chance you will engage in ineffective terminations that waste your company a lot of time and money by creating unnecessary employee-employer disputes.
- Make sure your rules and regulations clearly spell out incentives, bonuses and benefits and if your rules and regulations say that you will be providing any of these, you really should provide them. Well over half the rules and regulations we review or audit need substantial cleaning up of these provisions and a good portion of the China labor law disputes on which our China labor lawyers are retained involve these sections.
Bottom line: If you have employees in China, resolve to clean up and improve upon your employee rules and regulations by the New Year.