The anti-sexual harassment movement, commonly referred to on social media as the #MeToo movement, continues to gain momentum as it sweeps the world. More and more countries have become aware of this movement and are beginning to set in place rules and regulations for the workplace that will help protect employees from sexual harassment.
Amongst the countries that have begun to take action is the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where officials are urging employers to put in place and review their workplace policies against sexual harassment. The Jiangsu Province recently issued special regulations on the labor protection of female employees. These special regulations were put in place as a step towards ensuring that female employees are protected from sexual harassment and strengthening their labor protections.
The Special Regulations on Labor Protection of Female Employees in Jiangsu Province
On July 1st, 2018, the Special Regulations on Labor Protection of Female Employees of Jiangsu Province took full effect. For the first time ever, the authorities provided detailed requirements and regulations for employers that establish specific internal policies and systems and regulations against sexual harassment for them to implement within their workplace.
These are the notable highlights from the Jiangsu Province Special Provisions:
Measures for Employers to Take
Although Mainland China was concerned with the presence of sexual harassment within the workplace, there were no clear and explicit regulations or provisions included in the National Women’s Protection Law, Labor Law, and Employment Law that touched on sexual harassment.
In a bid to rectify this, the Special Provisions clearly outlined some measures that employers in Jiangsu Province had to take in order to protect their female employees against sexual harassment. These included:
- Employers are required to create and implement company regulations that primarily focused on the prevention of any workplace sexual harassment incidents.
- Employers are obligated to provide their employees with training on the prevention of sexual harassment within the company.
- Employers need to create and provide their employees with a working environment that is sexual harassment free.
- Employees should be provided functioning communication channels where they could submit any sexual harassment complaints. More so, these complaints ought to be addressed in a timely fashion whilst ensuring that the privacy of all involved parties was protected.
- Any other measures that employers could take to prevent workplace sexual harassment were encouraged.
On top of these measures, Article 43 of the Ordinance for Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests of Jiangsu Province, states that employers are required to carry out necessary investigation and complaint systems that work to prevent and prohibit any sexual harassment of employees.
Employers are urged to review their sexual harassment policies in regards to developments from the issuance of the Jiangsu special regulations. Companies that set out to hire employees from Jiangsu Province, or simply plan to move their operations to Jiangsu, should establish detailed anti-sexual harassment policies and processes that account for training, anti-harassment guidelines, complaint procedures, and measures that protect their employees who may be involved in sexual harassment cases.
Failure to do so will open up employers to numerous risks and compliance legal issues.
According to the PRC Special Regulations, an employer that fails to comply with the law’s requirements (including the affirmative obligations to prevent and prohibit sexual harassment) will face liability to compensate the employee for any resulting damages. Moreover, if the actions or omissions of the employer or individual members of management constitute a crime, criminal proceedings may be instituted and attendant criminal liabilities may apply.
Article 92 of the PRC Labor Law also stipulates that if an employer fails to provide their employees with a safe sexual harassment-free working environment that is in accordance with the law, then relevant authorities can either issue them with a fine or force them to rectify the situation. Depending on how serious the violation at hand is, authorities can also suspend employers’ operations and continue to press charges resulting in a criminal liability case against the guilty parties.
If an employer fails to adequately address a workplace sexual harassment claim, chances are that the disgruntled employees will take to social media to plead for their case realizing their allegations both within and outside the company. More often than not it leaves the employer and their company at the mercies of a trial in the court of public opinion. A prime example of this publicization of workplace sexual harassment allegations is a case where a female employee posted a WeChat screenshot that exposed her manager inviting her over to his hotel room. Her employer only deemed it fit to reduce the manager’s bonus but due to the uproar caused by people on social media, the employer finally dismissed the manager.
This goes to show that when handling these issues, employers should also factor in the additional reputational harm that may be inflicted on the company.
Employers Should Take Action
China has joined the list of countries that have created and implemented legal regulations on the topic of workplace sexual harassment. Employers are urged to review their sexual harassment policies, practices, and problem-solving processes. They should put special emphasis on:
- Ensuring that mandated sexual harassment policies have been implemented, inclusive of disciplinary actions enforced as a result of any violations.
- Clearly define and identify what the prohibited conduct entails i.e. what sexual harassment is regardless of the gender or job position of the victim or harasser.
- Provision of continuous training on sexual harassment for both managers and employees.
- Building a workplace culture that does not condone any form of sexual harassment.
- Establishing effective reporting channels and investigation processes that do not compromise privacy and confidentiality throughout the entire process.