HR Compliance during Prevention and Control of COVID-19

The COVID-19 has had an impact on all areas of life and this is particularly true for businesses in China, who may be left wondering what actions to take to move forward. Fortunately, the Chinese government has provided a great deal of guidance and introduced many new measures to assist both employers and employees during this period of prevention and control of COVID-19 pandemic.

This article is divided into the following categories:

  • Resuming Operations
  • Preventative measures
  • Employment during the pandemic
  • Governmental assistance to enterprises

Resuming operations

In China, the threat of the virus is no longer as severe as it was previously; however, the law still requires preventative measures to be undertaken in order to ensure maximum safety. Businesses may resume their operations after obtaining approval from the district government. In doing so, they will have to sign and return a commitment letter which outlines the steps that must be followed to facilitate a safe working environment. This includes purchasing masks, having temperature-measuring equipment and organizing a comprehensive schedule for daily cleaning and sanitation.

Preventative measures

There are several steps employers should take to minimize the risk of infection. After having been approved to resume operations, posters will be provided in both Chinese and English which are to be clearly displayed around the office. The posters highlight the importance of frequently washing hands, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing. Employees are expected to wear masks at the office at all times and have their temperature measured every day.

It is likely that the office property management will have implemented its own rules in response to the pandemic. Employers are expected to comply with such procedures, which may include temperature checks, guest registration and limiting access to one entranceway.

All areas of the workplace, including dining spaces, elevators and meeting rooms, must be regularly cleaned and disinfected. The use of central heating or air-conditioning in the workplace is prohibited, whilst eating together in close proximity and face-to-face meetings of large groups are also to be avoided.

In China, a health QR code must be presented to enter many public places and office buildings. The data from the individual’s phone is assessed to make a judgement as to whether they have been to a high-risk area, after which a colored QR code is produced on the phone. A green QR code suggests individuals can move freely, yellow necessitates a seven-day quarantine, and red calls for a 14-day quarantine. The QR code can be accessed through mobile phone applications such as Alipay, and it is likely that employees will need to have this QR code ready before being permitted to enter the workplace.

Employers are recommended to allow employees to arrive to work during non-peak hours. If possible, employers should arrange safe travel for employees from and to work, and this could be achieved through the use of company shuttle buses. In addition, there must be strict monitoring and inspection of any non-employees entering the work premises.

Employment during the pandemic

Although many enterprises have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, Chinese law encourages businesses to persevere through this difficult period. Employers are recommended to retain their employees, who have been provided additional legal protections in light of the virus.

Although many enterprises have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, Chinese law encourages businesses to persevere through this difficult period. Employers are recommended to retain their employees, who have been provided additional legal protections in light of the virus.

If an employee is an actual or a suspected patient of the COVID-19 or has come into close contact with such a patient, and cannot perform his/her duties due to medical treatment, quarantine, or any other governmental emergency measure, the employer cannot unilaterally terminate employment and must provide the employee full remuneration.

If the employment contract period is set to expire whilst the employee is receiving medical treatment, under quarantine, or following any other governmental emergency measures, the contract period will automatically extend until the end of the treatment, quarantine, or the emergency measure.

Mass layoffs are generally discouraged by Chinese law, even more so during the epidemic. If the COVID-19 has resulted in the enterprise having difficulties in production or operations, the employer should consult with the employee to discuss adjustments to their work. This may include a new salary agreement, reduction of working hours, or different shift rotations.

If an enterprise ceases operation during the wage payment cycle, the law states that the full amount of wages shall be paid in accordance with the employment contract. If the suspension exceeds the wage payment cycle, the employer may negotiate a new agreement with the employee and pay wages accordingly. Note that the wage cannot be any less than the minimum wage standard set by the municipality.

Governmental assistance for enterprises

There is plenty of good news for employers, too.

The Chinese government has released a notice which encourages employers to take advantage of employment insurance, employee training subsidy and small business funds for help in tackling challenges that may rise for the business during this special period. Moreover, recruitment costs during this time may be comparatively low as the government aims to monitor the service fees of recruitment agencies, whilst encouraging free services to be provided to companies that have been greatly affected by the pandemic. Employers can also access employee training resources which have now been made public on the government-owned website, China Vocational Training Online.

50% of unemployment insurance premiums paid in the last fiscal year will be refunded, provided that the employer takes all possible steps to keep lay-offs to minimum. In addition, the social insurance payment period will be further postponed for three months, making it July 1st 2020 to June 30, 2021.

Enterprises with foreign employees may find that the visas of some of their workers are nearing the expiration date. Fortunately, this is not a case for concern, as the visas and resident permits that are to expire during this period will automatically extend for further two months.

These are the general laws which will be relevant to employers during the outbreak. However, it must be emphasized that there are differing rules and regulations applicable in different districts across China. Such laws are being updated regularly to reflect the rapid improvement of the epidemic. It is important to be up-to-date with the relevant news and information, and this may be done by following the district’s official WeChat account.

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