The old saw, “hire slow fire fast” does not work for China. This is because China employee terminations require far more careful legal handling than in the United States. When it comes to employee terminations, China is still very much a Communist country. Think France not the United States. I estimate botched terminations cost foreign companies on average around five times as much as a well-handled termination that includes severance, and yet our China employment lawyers spend more time trying to fix badly done terminations than providing legal consulting on how to achieve one correctly.
This is largely because in disputes arising from an employee termination, the employer bears the burden of proving its termination was both handled properly and justified. This means that for an employer to prevail in a termination dispute, it must have the evidence/records to support the termination.
A recent employee-employer case out of Shenzhen nicely highlights the importance of the employer have good evidentiary support, and what can happen to an employer lacking that support. The facts of this case are not terribly complicated and I have simplified it even more for this post. A Shenzhen employer issued a written notice to an employee immediately terminating the employment relationship. At trial, the parties did not dispute the termination date (even though this issue is often contested) or that the employee actually received the termination notice (even though this is often contested by the employee). The termination notice essentially said nothing more than “we are unilaterally terminating your contract.” The employer contended that it had fired the employee for a series of breaches of the employer rules and regulations and alleged it had orally explained the reasons for the termination to the employee when it delivered the employee’s termination notice.
The Shenzhen intermediary court basically said that the employer had failed to specify the grounds for termination when it served the employee with the termination notice because oral communications of those grounds does not count. Since the employer never gave its terminated employee the grounds for termination, the court deemed the termination to have been unlawful and it awarded the employee the full amount of statutory severance, doubled.
Complain all you like about this court decision, but recognize that if you should find yourself in the same situation as the Chinese employer who lost this lawsuit, you too will probably lose 999 times out of a 1000. This court handled everything “by the book,” which is 100% par for the course in China employer-employee disputes. The employer lost because it got lazy and failed to do something the law required it to do and because it had no good evidence that it had done it. Had this employer merely provided its employee with a written explanation for the termination and made the employee sign for having received that written explanation (it does not hurt to videotape the providing of notice), it no doubt would have prevailed. In other words, all the employer needed to have done was to have strictly complied with the law.
All the employer needed to have done was to have fired slow, by first determining all necessary steps to a proper termination under all applicable China and local laws, and then done all that it needed to do to act accordingly.
We will be discussing the practical aspects of Chinese law and how it impacts business there. We will be telling you what works and what does not and what you as a businessperson can do to use the law to your advantage. Our aim is to assist businesses already in China or planning to go into China, not to break new ground in legal theory or policy.