At the same time, China’s legal approach to sexual harassment in the workplace is being overhauled. Until now, the women’s protection law has only stipulated that victims of harassment have the right to complain to their employers. Going forward, employers must abide by certain affirmative obligations, including the establishment of internal policies that prohibit sexual harassment and of procedures that provide for timely handling of complaints. Failures to take these steps could lead to personal legal liability on the part of supervisors and other responsible staff.
According to Chinese media, the draft changes to the women’s protection law were the subject of more than 700,000 submissions during the public comments period. While views on the new legislation are surely not unanimous, it is reasonable to assume that there is considerable support for the changes. This in turn suggests that the Chinese authorities will be directed to meaningfully enforce the law’s new provisions.
With this in mind, businesses operating in China must review their policies and practices to ensure adherence to the new legislation. Specific attention should be paid to hiring activities, particularly to these extent that these are subcontracted to recruiting agencies and similar entities. In addition, businesses should take steps to ensure that sexual harassment reporting mechanisms are effective given the specific circumstances of their workplaces.