On March 8, 2023, six government departments released two new documents for the protection of female employees in the workplace, aiming at improving special labor protection for female employees in the workplace, while also serving as reference texts for employers when developing internal rules. We dive into the documents highlighting their key insights for businesses, employers, and employees.
On March 8, 2023, six government departments, including the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS) issued two documents: the Rules for the Special Labor Protection of Female Employees in the Workplace (Reference Text) and the Rules for the Elimination of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (Reference Text).
These two documents are intended to improve the special labor protection for female employees and further eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, by providing reference texts to employers when they develop internal rules and regulations regarding female employee management and when they sign labor contracts with female employees.
The guidelines draw on a range of Chinese laws and regulations, including the PRC Labor Law, the PRC Labor Contract Law, and the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests.
In this article, we introduce these two reference documents and analyze their implications on female employee management and protection in the workplace.
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Rules for the Special Labor Protection of Female Employees in the Workplace (Reference Text)
This document is a reference text for employers when they develop internal rules for special workplace labor protections for female employees.
The document has 26 model articles and covers a range of issues, including non-discrimination in recruitment, equal pay for equal work, special protections for female employees, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The document does not create new rules. Rather, it transfers and consolidates the scattered female employee protection clauses in different laws and regulations into streamlined reference articles, which are easy for employers to adopt and implement.
For example, in the fertility protection section, the document summarizes all relevant protections for female employees during their menstruation, pregnancy, maternity, and breastfeeding period.
Also, the model articles in the document also contain concrete implementation and supervision measures for companies’ reference. For example, Article 21 stipulates companies should appoint a specific department for the implementation of the company’s female employee protection rules; Article 22 stipulates that a supervision team should be formed to conduct regular checks regarding the implementation of the companies’ female protection situation; and Article 23 suggests that companies should provide effective complaint channels to female employees and ensure proper complaint management.
Rules for the Elimination of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (Reference Text)
This document provides a model system designed to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Among others, it emphasizes the public commitments employers should make to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as contents related to publicity and training, employee complaints management, investigation and disposal, and the role of trade unions in sexual harassment supervision.
Compared to other laws and regulations on sexual harassment prevention, the definition of sexual harassment in the newly released reference text is more specific and broader in scope.
To be more specific, it stipulates that “sexual harassment refers to an act that, against the will of another person, makes others feel uncomfortable with sexual associations by language, expression, action, text, image, video, voice, link or any other means, regardless of whether the perpetrator has harassment or any other improper purpose or intention.”
The emphasis on the victim’s perception than the harasser’s intentions will better protect female employees in the workplace sexual harassment scenario, according to experts.
Besides, the reference document also covers the publicity and training efforts needed to prevent and stop workplace sexual harassment, as well as the importance of establishing proper reporting and complaining channels and protocols.
Moreover, the articles in this reference document highlight the importance of protecting personal privacy rights during the investigation and handling of reports and complaints.
Through all these model articles, China’s laws and regulations on sexual harassment are expected to be better implemented.
How should employers adopt reference texts?
As the titles suggest, these two documents are just reference texts, rather than mandatory regulations. That is to say, companies can make necessary adjustments based on their own circumstances.
However, companies are not suggested to develop internal control rules that are too divergent from the reference texts. After all, these two documents are made based on relevant laws and regulations and are designed to help employers improve female employee protection and prevent sexual harassment. Being not in line with the reference texts will not only increase the incompliance risks but also may lead to ineffective systems and processes that have unnecessary loopholes and defects.
Companies should carefully study the reference texts for developing or improving their own internal rules for female employee management.
China’s efforts in protecting women’s rights in the workplace
In recent years, China has taken decisive steps to address discrimination against women in the workplace. The country’s 2019 Civil Code includes provisions prohibiting discrimination based on gender, and the government has introduced policies aimed at promoting equal pay and opportunities for women in the workforce. For example, the 2018 Regulations on the Work of Women include provisions aimed at protecting the rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, such as the PRC Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, which was just amended in 2022.
Furthermore, the Chinese government has launched campaigns to raise awareness of workplace discrimination and harassment and has implemented measures to support victims of such behaviors.
While there is still much work to be done to ensure equal opportunities and treatment for women in the workplace, China’s recent efforts demonstrate a growing commitment to addressing these issues and promoting gender equality.
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