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How to Get Your China Employee Handbook into Shape

Photo by ECP

Whether you are conducting an employer audit now or plan to do so in the near future, if it has been a while (say over a year or longer) since you reviewed and updated your China employer rules and regulations, you should get on it now. As this is usually (and should be) a much longer document than your employment contracts, creating a handbook takes a fair amount of hard work, but once you have a well-written document set up, updating it should be relatively easier. Here are a few tips that will help make this task even easier:

1. Make sure your Chinese version matches your English (or other non-Chinese version), while keeping in mind that Chinese is the controlling language. Both versions should be written so as to make reading and understanding them easy for your readers. You should assume your readers include Chinese employment authorities and arbitrators and judges, not just the company’s management and your employees. For example, if your English version says “3 days”, and your Chinese version says “2 days” or “3 business days,” it is a sign you need to go through your rules and regulations thoroughly to root out all translation discrepancies. As our employer audits often reveal, this sort of basic error is actually quite common and it can sometimes be dangerous.

2. If your employer rules and regulations are in Chinese only and yet your management and HR personnel are not fluent Chinese readers, you should also have your document translated into English or your native language. You as the employer will often need to refer to this document and having a readable and usable document is extremely important.

3. If you do not have the time or budget to check all sections of your rules and regulations, at least review and improve the sections that matter most to managing your China employees. For example, the section on disciplinary actions is often litigated and it is critical all language in that section is legally compliant and makes practical sense. Having a poorly crafted disciplinary section often gets employers into trouble in China.

4. When an employee commits misconduct that is not well addressed or covered at all in your rules and regulations, just handling that particular employee misconduct is not enough. Update your rules and regulations so that if the same thing happens again, you will be in a better position to respond to it.

5. You should also take a look at any section of your rules and regulations on which you have received comments, questions or concerns from your employees. Failing to do this can lead to employee disputes or even lawsuits and hurt your company morale.

6. Words matter. For example, if you want to impose an obligation on your employees, use the word “must” or its equivalent, and as noted above, make sure the Chinese version also says “must” or its equivalent. A common argument made by a China employee fired for allegedly failing to do something is that the employee did not know he or she was required to do that thing. When you want to make something an employee obligation, merely saying “employees are expected to do it” is not going to be adequate from a Chinese law perspective. Fixing this type of error normally does not take long but doing so can save you a lot of time and money in employee disputes and lawsuits.

7. Be as specific as possible, especially when it comes to employer actions and especially those that may be considered adverse to your employees. For example, if your rules and regulations say doing certain things are discouraged and just stop there, it is pretty much like saying nothing at all. You need to specify what will happen to the employee if the employee is found doing any of those things.

If you have employees in China, make it a regular task to clean up and improve upon your employer rules and regulations.

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