China Employer Rules and Regulations: Now is the Time

China employer rules and regulations are one of the most important things your company should have if it has any employees in China. And yet, far too many companies either do not have any employer rules and regulations at all, have a set that is badly outdated (which is often worse than having none at all), or have one that does not match up to the employment contracts their employees have signed.

If you have been following our posts on China employment law, you know how crucial it is for China employers to have up to date written employment contracts with all of their employees. You should also know that the employment contract is only one of many key documents you need for each new hire. At minimum, you should also have each of your employees 1) review and sign off on your employer rules and regulations and 2) sign a trade secrecy and intellectual property protection agreement at the beginning of employment. You may need additional agreements (for example, a non-compete agreement) depending on your company and on each employee’s specific situation, but the above are the bare minimums you as China employer should have to protect your company in China.

In this post, I focus on employer rules and regulations, a/k/a the employee handbook.

As a general rule, you do not want to put off getting your employees’ signatures on a receipt proving they received your rules and regulations. Consider this: you enter into an employment contract with one of your employees. After a disagreement with her manager, this employee throws a tantrum and causes serious damage to company property. You now wish to terminate her and before doing so you check her contract. It says you may terminate this employee for a serious breach of your rules and regulations. This is one of the few legally permissible grounds for an employer to unilaterally terminate an employee without having to pay severance. You then look for proof that you provided your rules and regulations to this employee and you cannot find anything one way or the other. You nonetheless go ahead and terminate the employee. This will probably be the wrong move because your employee will likely claim that you never provided her with a copy of your rules and regulations and she will almost certainly prevail and her termination will be deemed to have been unlawful.

Yes, employees everywhere in the world — and China is no exception — are expected not to throw tantrums at work or damage company property, but in China, if you do not have employer rules and regulations or some other company document explicitly prohibiting this sort of behavior, you may be out of luck.

Though a few Chinese courts have allowed employers to discipline or even terminate an employee based on the employee’s duty of good faith, most do not follow this practice when the employer’s rules and regulations are silent on the particular misconduct. For this reason, we strongly encourage our clients to have employer rules and regulations that can be relied on to make disciplinary/dismissal decisions. We also typically encourage them not to terminate anyone without such rules and regulations in place or if they cannot prove they provided their rules and regulations to the terminated employee. If our client has rules and regulations that were provided to the employee they wish to terminate, our next task as their China employment lawyers is to make sure that their rules and regulations actually allow for the termination.

Without all three of these things being true, you probably will lose a long and expensive lawsuit with your terminated employee. I am not talking in the abstract here either; I am basing this statement on our China employment lawyers getting a steady stream of appeals requests from foreign companies that have already lost such lawsuits and our usually encouraging that they seek to settle with the terminated employee rather than filing and losing the appeal.

Chinese law imposes a monetary penalty on employers that fail to execute written employment contracts with their employees within one month of the employee’s commencement. For this reason, most foreign company employers in China are pretty good at following this law. This is good but it’s not enough. Even though there is no specific legal requirement requiring your employees sign something indicating they received your rules and regulations, failing to secure this is usually considered by China’s courts and administrative bodies to be the equivalent of failing to get your employees to sign their employment contracts. And just as is true with employment contracts, the longer you delay having your employees sign off on a well-crafted Chinese language set of rules and regulations, the more it will cost you when you try to discipline/terminate problem employee(s) down the road.

By far the best time for implementing a set of rules and regulations is when your China entity is being formed and you start recruiting employees. This allows you to have your first group of hires sign off on your China employer rules and regulations and ensures you are fully covered. Our China employment attorneys recommend a yearly audit of every China company’s employment documents (including their rules and regulations) to ensure they are up to date with all legal and company and employee changes.

Bottom line: Having your employment documents in good shape early and then audited yearly will greatly reduce the likelihood and severity of employee troubles and your future costs.