The law on the discrimination and harassment against women has been amended

25 July 2023 3 min read

At a glance

  • On 30 October 2022, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed amendments on the law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests.
  • This is the most significant and comprehensive amendment to the Women’s Protection Law since its enactment 30 years ago.
  • Companies will now need to take gender equality more seriously, including the prevention of discrimination and harassment as well as the investigation and handling of relevant complaints when they arise.
  • The new rules took effect as of the 1 January 2023.

Stronger commitment against workplace discrimination

The revised law explicitly prohibits discrimination against women by employers in the recruitment and hiring process. Pregnancy tests during recruitment are now banned, and employers are also prohibited from reducing the welfare and benefits of female employees or limiting their promotions, rankings, and evaluations of professional and technical titles due to circumstances such as marriage, pregnancy, maternity leave, and breastfeeding. It also requires employers to promptly investigate and respond to complaints concerning to this matter. The revised law emphasises the power of social security departments along with Trade Unions and Women’s Federations to regulate employers as well as protect female employees in the workplace, and mandates that gender discrimination in job recruitment, admission, promotion, and dismissal be incorporated into the scope of labour security inspection.

Importantly, the revised law specifies financial penalties for the violation of such orders. Employers failing to comply and refusing to make corrections may be fined RMB 10,000 to RMB 50,000, and responsible personnel may be liable for administrative penalties. To protect themselves, the employers shall ensure that they have the correct policies in place to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace, which shall cover practices that, although not intending to discriminate, are discriminatory in effect. 

Affirmative duties to proactively prevent harassment

The revised law explicitly forbids unwelcomed sexual harassment of women by means of words, texts, images, or physical acts. It sets out mandatory requirements for employers to prevent and curb sexual harassment, including having anti-sexual-harassment policies in place, arranging training for employees, designating responsible personnel, developing a feasible reporting mechanism, and establishing procedures for investigations and disciplinary actions to tackle sexual harassment risks and handle the sexual harassment incidents.

The revised law is underlined by the protection of privacy and personal information of impacted individuals as well as the promotion of their mental health. While the former legislation already banned sexual harassment against women, the recent amendments empower women to file lawsuits to defend themselves and holds employers to a higher and more specific administrative as well as civil liability, and personnel who are directly responsible may be subject to disciplinary action. It is also worth noting that the revised law adds a new provision that would authorise China’s procuratorates to file public interest lawsuits against employers when employers fail to take reasonable measures to prevent and curb sexual harassment. 

Enhanced protection for female employees

The revised law requires employers to incorporate conditions on the protection of the rights and interests of female employees in their individual labour contracts, as well as in the collective contracts (if applicable). Such provisions may include prohibiting the assignment of hazardous or harmful work to female employees during pregnancy. A further new obligation for employers is to arrange for regular health checks (screening gynaecological diseases, breast diseases etc) for female employees, aiming to strengthen special protection for women in the workplace. In addition to requiring employers to prevent and stop domestic violence within the scope of their duties, the revised law places great emphasis on an employer’s obligation to provide maternity protection for employees.

Given the comprehensive changes above, employers may want to begin by collating information and reviewing their employment contracts, policies, forms, and practices to ensure compliance with these new reforms.

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