New China Law Boosts Women’s Protection

Women’s protection will get a legal boost in China starting on January 1, 2023, when the latest revision of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests (中华人民共和国妇女权益保障法) goes into effect. The new version of the law was approved by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on October 30 of this year, marking the third time that the legislation has been amended since it was first adopted in 1992.
Some of the more notable changes to the new women’s protection law concern workplace discrimination. Previous versions of the legislation expectedly addressed the issue, but protections have now been expanded, and with them employers’ obligations. To take one example, employers are now forbidden from withholding promotions and other forms of professional advancement on the basis of marriage, pregnancy, or parental status. In its current iteration, the law prohibits employers from firing or reducing wages on such bases, but is silent on more pernicious forms of discrimination against expectant or new mothers.
Another important change to the women’s protection law is the prohibition of certain hiring practices. For instance, pregnancy tests as part of pre-employment physicals are now forbidden. Making hiring contingent on a specific marital or parental status is also prohibited. Employers who violate these provisions are subject to fines of between RMB 10,000 and 50,000.
At the same time, China’s legal approach to sexual harassment in the workplace is being overhauled. Until now, the women’s protection law has only stipulated that victims of harassment have the right to complain to their employers. Going forward, employers must abide by certain affirmative obligations, including the establishment of internal policies that prohibit sexual harassment and of procedures that provide for timely handling of complaints. Failures to take these steps could lead to personal legal liability on the part of supervisors and other responsible staff.
According to Chinese media, the draft changes to the women’s protection law were the subject of more than 700,000 submissions during the public comments period. While views on the new legislation are surely not unanimous, it is reasonable to assume that there is considerable support for the changes. This in turn suggests that the Chinese authorities will be directed to meaningfully enforce the law’s new provisions.
With this in mind, businesses operating in China must review their policies and practices to ensure adherence to the new legislation. Specific attention should be paid to hiring activities, particularly to these extent that these are subcontracted to recruiting agencies and similar entities. In addition, businesses should take steps to ensure that sexual harassment reporting mechanisms are effective given the specific circumstances of their workplaces.
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