Legal professionals welcomed a guideline clarifying that Chinese courts will not support employers if they fire employees for epidemic-related reasons, hailing it as a move to effectively protect workers' rights.
The guideline, issued by the Supreme People's Court on Monday, stipulates that an individual having been infected or suspected of being infected with COVID-19, or staying in quarantine due to the disease, are not valid reasons for employers to terminate labor contracts.
Working relations, meanwhile, will also not be severed if it is found the employees have asymptomatic infections or hail from regions hit hard by the novel coronavirus, such as Hubei province, according to the guideline.
"The legal document is essential for laborers, especially for those from Hubei but working outside the province," said Zuo Chunhua, a lawyer from Guosen Law Firm in Wuhan, capital of Hubei.
A few Hubei workers have shown concerns about whether they would be fired or rejected by employers for their long-term absence from work or coming from the epidemic hot spot, "but now they can feel relieved, because the guideline as a reassuring force highlights their legal protection," she added.
Zhao Zhanling, a legal researcher at the China University of Political Science and Law, agreed with her.
He said the guideline is urgent and will regulate judges' behaviors in dealing with related disputes.
Applauding the top court's move to ensure fair employment, Ma Haitao, a lawyer from Beijing Zhongwen Law Firm, gave thumbs-up to another article in the guideline in which courts nationwide can give more aid to litigants during the outbreak.
"For example, the guideline allows courts to delay, reduce or waive litigation fees if litigants have difficulties paying due to the epidemic. This is considerate," Ma added.
"Such timely legal help is not only to guarantee the legitimate rights of a vulnerable group of people, but also a good way for courts to uphold justice," said Li Ya, Ma's colleague.
Calling for better protection of consumers' rights and interests, the top court, in a guideline on handling epidemic-related civil litigation, asked courts to invoke the punitive measures when ruling over cases involving the manufacture and sale of fake or inferior face masks, goggles, protective suits, disinfectants, food and drugs.
China's top legislature has warned against discrimination toward laborers from areas hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, clarifying that labor is a basic right of citizens and that the Chinese Labor Law is clear on guaranteeing fair employment and prohibiting job discrimination.
The legislature said employers who terminate contracts based on where employees come from are identified as violating the Chinese Labor Contract Law and should bear legal liability.