Happy International Women’s Day! At a time when women around the globe are proudly asserting their rights to be free from discrimination and harassment at work, here is a quick rundown of some laws in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region affecting female employees:
International Women’s Day Off
- In China, women are entitled to a half-day off on International Women’s Day.
- Virtually all countries in the region provide paid maternity leave, ranging from 10 weeks in Hong Kong to 6 months in Vietnam. Australia and New Zealand provide 18 weeks’ paid parental leave with the right to extended unpaid parental leave up to a year in certain circumstances.
- In some jurisdictions, laws drafted years ago with the intention to protect women resonate as tone-deaf and gender-discriminatory. For example, under Korea’s original Labor Standards Act (which will be amended effective May 1, 2018, affecting some of the below provisions):
- employers may not require women to work past 10 p.m. without their consent;
- women have “enhanced” overtime protections beyond what men are entitled to—they may not work overtime more than 2 hours a day, 6 hours a week, and 150 hours per year (this cannot be superseded by agreement); and
- employers may not place women in hazardous or dangerous roles (including emotionally precarious roles) during pregnancy or up to a year after childbirth.
Job Protections During Pregnancy
- Many APAC countries provide protections from discharge during pregnancy and for a period after childbirth. China, for example, protects women from discharge during pregnancy, during maternity leave, and for a year after the baby’s birth, except in cases of misconduct or negotiated separation—and women are entitled to return to the same job after they return from leave.
Menstruation and Related Medical Issues
- Countries such as Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea grant women a specific right to leave during menstruation; in Korea and Taiwan, women may take one day off per month for this reason, and in China and Japan, women with exacerbated medical difficulties may take time off during menstruation.
- Some countries in the region have created agencies specifically tasked with enforcing gender-equality-related laws and intended to encourage women to report workplace concerns. For example, as part of its labor law, Japan established a government agency designed to enforce its protections applicable to female employees and to address issues associated with female workers. The agency has the right to audit companies’ relevant books and records.
- Taiwan empowered its Ministry of Labor to enforce its 2014 Act of Gender Equality in Employment, including prescribing measures to implement parental leave, subsidizing employers that set up nursing rooms and offer childcare options to employees, exercising authority to impose sanctions (such as fines for violations up to USD $50,000), and publishing offending individuals’ names and titles and ordering them to improve within a specified period.
Pay Equity Law
- “Equal pay for equal work” is codified in several APAC countries. In Australia, for example, large employers must file annual reports to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency that address gender composition, pay disparity, flexible work arrangement availability, and consultation with employees about issues in the workplace.
- Most countries in the region have implemented some form of protection against workplace harassment toward women (or, at a minimum, interpreted their respective constitutional documents as forbidding it)—though critics routinely point to massive underreporting and other problems with enforcing these protections.
- India’s Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 requires employers to enact specific procedures to handle sexual harassment complaints from female employees, including forming a committee with one independent external expert and enacting written policies. Though it is not a gender-neutral law, many global companies choose to enact gender-neutral policies based on it.
- In Taiwan, large employers are required to implement and post anti-sexual harassment policies addressing prevention, procedures for raising a complaint, and discipline.
- Malaysia’s Employment Act requires employers to investigate any complaint of sexual harassment and, if the employee is found guilty, the employer must discipline the perpetrator.
- Singapore’s Protection from Harassment Act, though not specifically employment-related, criminalizes sexual harassment and lists workplace harassment as an example of unlawful harassment.