Supreme People’s Court Cases Address Overtime Limits in China, Targeting “996” Culture

On August 26, 2021, the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) jointly released a batch of “model” cases that provide new guidelines for Chinese companies regarding limits on employee overtime. The rulings specifically target the so-called “996” system, in which employees work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days a week. The 996 working arrangement, popularized by Chinese tech companies and promoted by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, has increasingly become the subject of public criticism.

In Case 1 of the batch of model cases released by China’s high court on August 26, 2021, an employee, Zhang, was terminated by a courier company after he refused to work overtime on the grounds that his working hours seriously exceeded the upper limit prescribed by the law. The rules and regulations of his employer stipulated that the working hours were from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days a week. The SPC ruled that the employer violated the law by illegally extending the upper limit of working hours, deemed the termination invalid, and granted Zhang compensation.

Although the 996 working hours regime may still be legal if it is not the consistent schedule of the employee, employers should refrain from expecting employees to regularly put in excessive overtime hours, even in industries where such hours may previously have been a cultural norm.

The SPC’s press release can be found here:

The text of the actual cases can be found here:

Additional coverage of the ruling by the South China Morning Post can be found here:

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