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Chinese authorities enforce mandated working hours, sending clear signal to companies

The Chinese authorities have been enforcing the mandated working hours specified in local labor laws, sending a clear signal to employers. Foreign companies operating in China should be aware of the latest regulations regarding work practices.

In the past couple of years, Chinese courts ruled in several cases that the employers had violated labor laws by imposing excessive overtime work. These court decisions may encourage some Chinese workers to sue their employer for violations or to bring overtime grievances to their HR representatives.

Under Chinese law, the normal workweek is eight hours per day with a maximum of 44 hours per week. For hourly employees, any overtime worked beyond that is limited to three hours per day. Employers must guarantee at least one weekly day off.

In cases where the constraints of the work characteristics or production limits the implementation of the standard working hours, the employer may apply the flexible working time or cumulative working time system. Such alternative working hours are subject to case-by-case approval by the labor administrative department.

After consulting with the trade union and the employee, a company may extend working hours but limited to a maximum of one per day. Under special circumstances, and if employees’ health is unaffected, the working hours may be extended to three hours maximum per day, and the accumulated total extension shall not exceed 36 hours per month.

However, in some workplaces in China, the culture encouraged by executives and supervisors has pushed employees to work 70 hours per week, or risk being seen as lazy or unmotivated. Often the extra hours are unpaid, especially if the workers are salaried.

Intense economic competition has contributed to this mindset, especially in tech and other industries.

Last year, China's Supreme Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security jointly confirmed that employers cannot require employees to work "9-9-6"—the name for a common practice of working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days per week.

According to local regulations, extended hours limitations do not apply in the extraordinary circumstances, such as:

In the event of a natural disaster, accident, life and health of employees or the safety of property is in peril and urgent dealing is needed;

In the event of a breakdown of production equipment, transportation lines or public facilities, production and public interests are affected, and rush repairs must be done without delay; and

Other circumstances stipulated by the laws, administrative rules, and regulations.

The following remuneration calculation should be applied to any extension of working hours according to the prescribed extension provisions:

If the extension of working hours falls within normal working hours, 150% of the normal working wage shall be remunerated;

If the extension of working hours falls on an arranged day off and no off-day is compensated, 200% of the normal working wage shall be paid;

If the extension of working hours falls on a statutory holiday, 300% of the normal working wage shall be remunerated.

Under special circumstances, a company may offer its employees a flexible working time system. This structure requires irregular or working hours which cannot be fixed under the standard due to a particular business activity, special requirements of work or duties of a particular post.

Certain employees may request to work under his type of flexible system, such as senior management personnel, personnel who work outside the office, sales personnel, and other employees whose work cannot be properly measured with the standard work hours.

Long-distance transportation personnel, taxi drivers, certain railway, port, or warehouse employees who carry out loading and off-loading and other personnel whose work must be flexible due to the special nature of their job can apply for flexible time as well.

Other employees for whom, due to special charact eristics of the business, the special demands of job or scope of duties, the application of flexible working time system is appropriate.

Companies must offer workers of flexible hours at least one day off per week and take their opinions into consideration when applying proper methods of work and rest to ensure employees’ rights to days off and holidays.

Another structure that can be used is the cumulative working time system, which refers to a working system adopted by an enterprise for certain personnel due to the special nature of their posts, the continuous nature of a business activity, or seasonal or other natural restrictions.

The working time is comprehensively calculated based on a weekly, monthly, seasonally, or yearly period, provided that the average working schedule per day and per month respectively are generally the same as the statutory standard working time.

Personnel in industries such as communications, railway, postal service, marine conveyance, airlines, or fishing, who must work continuously; and personnel in industries restricted by season, like geological and resource surveying, construction, and tourism may apply to implement the comprehensive working time system.

The total working time of one day or one month can be longer than eight hours or forty hours, but the total working time of a comprehensively calculated period should not exceed the total statutory working time. Any work exceeding the statutory working time shall be deemed as extended working time and subject to overtime pay.

According to experts, a move towards better labor protection also comes as the attitudes of many young Chinese have changed. Unlike their parents who believed that hard work pays off, there has been a growing sense of dissatisfaction among exhausted youth who see little reward in doing the same.

To learn more about our services in China, contact our Head of Business Advisory - Ms. Kristina Koehler-Coluccia at

DISCLAIMER: All information in this article is verified to the best of our ability and is assumed to be correct at time of release; however, Woodburn Accountants & Advisors does not accept responsibility for any losses arising from reliance on the information provided within. The information provided is for general guidance and does not replace specialized advice.


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