Juren Education is the first company in China to be known to be sued for Sexual Discrimination under the country’s 2008 anti-discrimination laws.
In this case a job applicant is claiming that her application for a role as an office assistant was declined after she was told that it was a ‘man only’ position.
Sexual discrimination has been unlawful in China for some years, but this has resulted in relatively little litigation. A survey by the Center for Women’s Law and Legal Services of Peking University found that one in twenty-five women have an employment contract containing clauses forbidding them to get married or pregnant within a set time. The 2008 Employment Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China renders such clauses unlawful.
Another law passed in the same year provides that women cannot be dismissed whilst pregnant or for a year after birth. This goes much further than any UK provision. Although pregnancy discrimination has been unlawful in the UK since the 1970s, it remains a serious problem.
The 2008 Chinese law contains several innovations. It makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of someone having come from the countryside. It also contains a new development of discrimination on the basis of carrying an ‘infectious pathogen’. This covers discrimination on the basis of having HIV, hepatitis etc.
The first successful claim of this type was brought in 2008, by a man whose offer of employment from a Beijing technology company was retracted when pre-employment screening revealed he had hepatitis B. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 made it unlawful to make pre-employment enquiries about people’s health, to try to prevent this sort of incident.
Unlike the Equality Act 2010, the Chinese law makes no specific provision for Disability Discrimination. In China there is strong theoretical protection for people who are temporarily unwell, but those who are disabled do not have the sort of rights that are a feature of the UK legal landscape.
Whilst the 2008 law is a huge improvement in Chinese human rights, it does not protect workers from discrimination on the basis of Gender Reassignment or Sexual Orientation. Homosexuality was only legalised in China in 1997 and astonishingly, only removed from the list of mental illnesses in 2001.
There is still a long way to go in China in terms of enforcement of existing employment laws, and developing protection from discrimination for the many groups who do not have such rights, despite new legislation.
Sarah Russell is an Employment Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
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