China is one of the most stringent countries when it comes to policies aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. While most countries have abandoned blockades and relaxed quarantine rules once vaccinations became readily available, China has continued to impose a “zero COVID” strategy. This approach has led to recurrent blockages when regions experience increasing infections from variants. Most recently, Shanghai and other cities in China spent many weeks blocking in response to the contagious version of omicron. As these cities begin to reopen after the last blockade, businesses will have to contend with the impact of COVID-19 on their operations and employee relations. Through a Q&A presentation, Insight will discuss eight key topics to help employers doing business in China or hiring Chinese workforce remain consistent with the country’s pandemic-era workplace policies.
- Can you request proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test when a candidate is interviewed or a new employee is on board?
Yes. As part of the COVID-19 prevention measures in China, you can request such information from applicants and new recruits. You can ask them to provide a health code, travel code, antigen test or PCR test. Candidates and employees, for their part, are legally obliged to comply with such requests.
- Can you exclude candidates and new recruits from medium and high risk areas?
No. The exclusion of candidates from medium- and high-risk areas from the recruitment and recruitment process is considered labor discrimination. Appropriate COVID-19 prevention measures must be implemented in advance and ensure that applicants from medium or high risk areas meet the requirements.
- Can you cancel a candidate’s offer if he is quarantined or unable to start on time due to a blockade in their region?
No. Although no employment relationship has yet been established with the applicant, the letter of offer is binding on the employer. You may be subject to civil liability if you withdraw the offer alone. If the applicant is unable to start work due to COVID-19 prevention measures, you should discuss the available options with the applicant, which may include delaying the start date or working remotely during quarantine or the blocking period. However, until the candidate is actually able to start work, you are not obliged to pay them.
- Can you extend the probationary period if the worker is quarantined or resides in quarantined space?
Yes, under two conditions: 1) discuss the issue with the employee; and (2) the extended period corresponds to the time when the worker is quarantined or the worker’s place is quarantined. The probationary period may be considered illegal if you extend it unilaterally or excessively.
- Can you put a worker on paid or corporate leave if he is unable to perform his regular duties or work remotely for reasons related to COVID-19?
Yes. The employer’s unilateral agreement on holiday benefits, such as annual paid leave or corporate social holidays, is generally accepted.
- What payments do you owe to a worker during quarantine or isolation if he or she tests COVID-19 or has been exposed to COVID-19?
The employer is obliged to pay the employee their regular salary during the quarantine or isolation period.
- Is the worker entitled to overtime pay if he is isolated or blocked and unable to return home after work?
No. The worker is only entitled to his regular pay. Time outside regular working hours is not overtime unless you make the worker continue to work after regular working hours.
- What points should you consider when implementing and changing policies due to the impact of COVID-19?
You should discuss changes to the rules with your employees and implement appropriate notification procedures. You can also make suggestions for comments to workers ‘representatives on draft rules or important issues closely related to workers’ interests, such as suspension of activities and production, changes in compensation, changes in working conditions and hours, and changes in shifts. You should also consider taking steps to notify employees through methods such as email, intranet systems and chat groups.
The COVID-19 pandemic and China’s prevention measures have had a significant impact on applicable businesses and employee relationships.
Special thanks to Shanghai Shimin Law Offices for their contributions to this article.