Workplace Sexual Harassment in China

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

How governments regulate workplaces varies from country to country. On June 20, 2016, we covered a sexual harassment case in the United Kingdom EPLI Gender Discrimination Claims Makes Waves in the U.K., in which a coach for a prominent English soccer team sued her employer, alleging sexual harassment. In this blog, we look at how the People’s Republic of China, the largest country in the world by population, deals with workplace sexual harassment.

In China, the female workforce is an important element of the country’s economic competitiveness, constituting 45 percent of the working population. Yet 80 percent of working Chinese women report experiencing sexual harassment at some stage of their career. On August 28, 2005, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress amended the Law for the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests of the People’s Republic of China to prohibit sexual harassment against women. Although the law does not explicitly impose an obligation on the employer to protect women from sexual harassment, many provinces have subsequently enacted local rules that do create such an obligation. Under these local rules, an employer may be liable if it fails to take actions to prevent or prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Under the PRC Labor Law and Women’s Protection Law, if the employer fails to take effective measures to prevent or prohibit sexual harassment, the relevant labor or other department may impose a fine or demand that the employer correct the situation.

While China’s most recent legislation is an impressive step, unfortunately only 30 percent of sexual harassment complainants prevail — and when they do, they often receive only minimal damages.  It is extraordinarily difficult for victims to prove their cases. According to Zhang Jiangzhou, a judge with Beijing Haidian District People’s Court, “How to prove sexual harassment is the biggest difficulty faced by the victims, so they hide their experience and quit their job.”  This may be due in part to the fact that the Women’s Protection Law fails to specify what actually constitutes “sexual harassment”. Also, unlike U.S. laws, sexual harassment laws in China only protect women when they are harassed by men, not other women.  Consequently, there is still much to be improved.

As China grows and asserts itself on the world stage, it must continue to fight to protect its workingwomen. If it does, it can expect women to better integrate into the workforce, which will not only improve the lives of millions of Chinese women in the workplace but will also lead to lower levels of absenteeism and make China more attractive to foreign investors and customers. If China fails, it could see its most talented and economically productive women emigrating to more tolerant economies.