How to resume business amid the coronavirus outbreak (China)

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As reported in our previous article, China has extended its Chinese New Year holiday and work suspension period as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak which has now infected more than 40,000 people around the world.

In order to try and control the spread of the disease, various cities and provinces have issued rules requiring workers not to return to work on or before certain dates (the “Back to Work Day”). Nevertheless, certain “essential” industries and occupations are required to return to work according to the original normal schedule, e.g. those relating to water, electricity and gas supply industries, telecommunications, medical instruments, pharmaceutical, and supermarkets. Below is a summary of the Back to Work Day and compensation for working before Back to Work Day in key cities and provinces across China.

Location

Back to Work Day

Before Back to Work Day - Essential Industries

Before Back to Work Day - Non-Essential Industries

Pay for Work

Can Ask Employees to Work from Home?

Pay for Work (from Home)

Beijing

February 10

Not specified in the rules

Yes

 

Feb 3-7: normal wages

 

Feb 8-9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Shanghai

February 10

Jan 31 - Feb 9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Yes

 

Jan 31 - Feb 9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Guangdong

February 10

Feb 3-7: normal wages

 

Feb 8-9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Not specified in the rules

Not specified in the rules

Hubei

February 14

Feb 3- 13: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Not specified in the rules

Not specified in the rules

Jiangsu

February 10

Feb 3-7: normal wages

 

Feb 8-9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Yes

 

Feb 3-7: normal wages

 

Feb 8-9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Zhejiang

February 10

Feb 3-7: normal wages

 

Feb 8-9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

Yes

 

Feb 3-7: normal wages

 

Feb 8-9: alternative rest days or overtime wages at 200% of normal remuneration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a company forces its employees to return to the physical workplace before the local Back to Work Day, the company may be directed by the local authorities to suspend operations. In severe cases (likely those where there is malicious disregard of workers' health and safety resulting in multiple infections), the company may even face criminal liability for noncompliance, and the legal representative and person in charge of the company may be subject to administrative detention.

Resuming operations

On February 7, 2020, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security issued a circular meant to soften the blow of the novel coronavirus to businesses and to help them resume operations. The circular provides that employers who are unable to resume normal operations can arrange for employees to work from home, or if remote working is not achievable, arrange for the employees to take annual leave after consultation with the employees. Where it is permissible for a company to resume operations, if its employees are unwilling to resume work, the company should first counsel them and if they still refuse to resume work without appropriate reasons, the company may terminate employment in accordance with the process specified in existing laws. For businesses that suffer serious financial difficulties and are unable to pay wages as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the payment of wages can be deferred after consultation with employees.

 

Reopening physical premises

 

Despite the above circular and official Back to Work Days, many companies in the private sector are further delaying the opening of physical premises due to health concerns as the disease is still spreading. In addition, some companies are unable to open physical premises after the Back to Work Days as they face numerous challenges under new local administrative rules. For example, Shenzhen requires enterprises to apply for resumption of work with a disease control team at the street level five days in advance and can only be allowed to reopen upon approval after Feb 9. The application needs to include signing a health and safety undertaking and providing details of measures taken by the company to monitor employee’s travel history and health, and provide items such as face masks and hand sanitizers which are difficult to procure at this time. Shanghai requires approval to resume business and employers need to ensure all employees wear face masks at work and adopt flexible work schedules to avoid peak hour traffic. In Beijing, workers are allowed to stay at home if there is no other person in the family to look after children as schools remain closed even after the Back to Work Day.

 

In order to implement the statutory obligations and protect the employees, companies are advised to take following actions upon reopening:

 

  • To check if any employee has symptoms of respiratory infections such as fever or cough each day. If any employee is found with such symptoms, the company should report promptly to the nearby virus control authority or send the employee to the designated medical institute;

  • To collect information on a routine basis regarding whether employees have been in contact with any persons who have contracted the coronavirus and whether they have visited epidemic hot-zones;

  • To follow special precautions required by local authorities, for instance, Beijing and Shanghai require that employees who come back from Hubei Province or have had close contact with people in Hubei should accept supervisory medical observation for 14 days and should not go out during this period. But during this period, companies may arrange for employees to work from home if possible;

  • To provide a safe working environment to help protect employees from communicable diseases in the workplace (for example, disseminating face masks or hand sanitizer, frequently cleaning office space);

  • Companies may consider encouraging all employees to work from home to the maximum extent possible, and try to avoid assigning their employees to work in the regions affected by the coronavirus in order to avoid work-related injury.