China Employee Compensated RM20,000 For All The Work Texts She Sent After Office Hours

The court ordered the employer to pay for all of the employee's "invisible overtime".

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Last year, a court in Beijing, China ordered a company to compensate an employee for sending work messages after office hours, deeming it overtime

According to The Beijing News, the recent case was brought up by Beijing High People's Court president Kou Fang, who was delivering a work report at the 16th Beijing Municipal People's Congress on Tuesday, 23 January.

During his speech, Kou said Beijing courts have focused on the protection of workers' rights and interests in 2023, concluding over 41,526 labour dispute cases, such as this one.

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In the case Kou cited, the employee, known as Li, sued her former employer for outstanding overtime pay for hours spent communicating with clients and colleagues on WeChat during non-office hours

According to the International Organisation of Employers, the employer did not consider such correspondences as overtime work, but rather as communications to meet customers' needs within her job scope.

However, Li said she worked a total of more than 500 hours of overtime during her one-year employment with the company, regularly having to message clients and colleagues after office hours, as well as on weekends and public holidays.

In order to prove her claim, Li submitted all of her WeChat records to court as evidence.

The Beijing court ruled in favour of the employee and ordered the employer to pay her 30,000 yuan (RM20,000)

The court based its ruling on the fact that the text exchanges were "fixed and periodic", rather than "temporary and occasional", which constitutes as "overtime work deserving of payment".

The court also found the employer implemented an unapproved "flexible working hour system", as determined by the local labour department.

China Press reported that the lawsuit is the first in the country to use to term "invisible overtime" in its judicial documents, with the court legally recognising text messaging as "substantial labour regardless of the physical workplace" to protect workers' rights to "offline rest".

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Although the ruling was handed down in October last year, the case continues to be discussed on Chinese social media

According to Shanghai-based publication Sixth Tone, many office workers in China share similar experiences, with 84.7% of respondents in an online survey saying that they continue to track work-related messages after office hours every day.

The report added that although the Beijing court ruled in Li's favour, legal experts say the impact of the case is limited and may not be used as reference for future cases, as the ruling also hinged on the specific company's unofficial working system.

Nonetheless, The Beijing News reported that with the president of the Beijing High People's Court mentioning the case of "invisible overtime" in his work report at congress, it is a valuable attempt in protecting workers' rights and interests in this digital age.

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