Our China lawyers are always getting a slew of emails from both employees and employers doing business in China. The questions typically involve employees who are questioning their treatment or who want to change jobs or employers who want our quick confirmation of something they are planning with one or more of their employees. We can rarely provide instantaneous answers to their questions. This is because in addition to the complexity of Chinese employment law at the national level, there are seemingly endless legal twists and turns and variations at the local level.
For example, one of our regular blog readers asked “just a few quick questions” 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 and the following questions:
- 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?
Though these may seem like straightforward questions, here’s a sampling of the information we would need to gather before being able to provide any meaningful guidance:
- We’d need to know the name and location of his employer. We would also need to run a conflict check on that company because it would not be good for us to be advising an employee of one of our clients on how to work elsewhere, even if only on a volunteer basis.
- Since employment laws in China can vary greatly from city to city (sometimes even by district within a 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. This is especially true when the written laws are not as clear as they should be, which is quite often the case.
- The specific contract with the employer would also have to be reviewed in detail. What if it forbids any outside work without written permission? Our giving this employee the okay to volunteer could get him fired.
As you can see, there’s almost no such thing as an easy question when it comes to labor laws in China.
For more on this, check out this Forbes article, China’s Hourly Work Week: Think Locally, explaining how something as seemingly simple as the 40-hour workweek can trip up employers who don’t take the time to learn the ins and outs of local employment laws.