With the development of COVID-19 vaccines, the Chinese government is adopting measures to ensure that employers are providing vaccination plans to their employees, an important step to ensure a successful fight against the pandemic.
As announced by the Chinese government, the entire population can now take the COVID-19 vaccine, free of charge. According to current policies in China, the vaccine will be implemented in two stages. In the first stage, people who are at a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19 because of their professions (“High-Risk Group”) will receive the vaccine. Then, in the second stage, the vaccine will gradually be made available to the remaining population.
The High-Risk Group covers the following nine groups of people:
- First-line port customs officers engaging in inspection and quarantine of cold chain imports
- Staff engaging in work related to loading and unloading, handling, and transportation at ports
- Staff engaging in work related to international and domestic transportation
- Staff working at border ports with high risk of being exposed to overseas outbreaks of COVID-19
- Medical staff and healthcare workers
- Government, public security, armed police, firefighting, and community officers
- Staff engaging in work related to delivery, water, electricity, heating, coal, and gas
- Staff engaging in work related to transportation, logistics, old age caring, sanitation, and funerals
- Individuals who need to go abroad for the purpose of work or study
Besides the individuals who need to go abroad for the purpose of work or study, vaccines for the High-Risk Group are organized by their employers or institutes. For the rest of the working population, they can either register by themselves at their resident compounds or via their companies. However, companies are required to notify and organize employees to make online appointments for vaccinations.
Vaccinations for the High-Risk Group started at the very beginning of 2021. As of March 2021, vaccinations for the rest of the population aged between 18-59 is now under way, and foreign nationals can now also get vaccinated. For those who are not part of China’s social insurance scheme, the vaccination costs around RMB 100 per dose.
“If the employer is willing to provide support to employees during this vaccination process, such as arranging transportation or allowing employees to take leave during the vaccination period, it may be easier to encourage employees get vaccinated.”
How should employers approach vaccines for their employees?
According to PRC law, all employers in China are obliged to cooperate with the prevention and control measures regarding COVID-19 formulated and published by the Chinese government. Legally speaking, implementing the COVID-19 vaccination plan is one of these measures. Currently, vaccination is supervised by the central government and implemented by local governments who set up specific vaccination points in different areas. Relevant local authorities such as the Marketing Supervisory Bureau and Civil Affairs Bureau decide on the vaccination plan and notify companies that fall under the High-Risk Group about the vaccination schedule. The companies receiving the notification from the authorities are obliged to register their High-Risk Group employees to take the vaccine. Employees must fill out a consent form, which is provided by the local government. Employers should submit these forms to the authorities and organize their employees to go to the designated vaccination points.
For vaccinating other employees, after receiving the relevant notice from the authorities, companies should first register their company accounts in the health cloud app, which is the online platform for vaccination appointment management. Companies should then notify those employees who are willing to take vaccinations to fill out their personal information and make an appointment via the app. Employees may go to the designated points for vaccinations, according to their respective appointment instructions. They must also sign a letter of consent onsite before receiving their vaccination.
How can employers approach vaccines for their employees?
Until now, the COVID-19 vaccine is not listed by law as one of the vaccines which must be taken in China. Therefore, taking the COVID-19 vaccine is not compulsory. Legally speaking, employers cannot force their employees to take the vaccine, and each employee must agree to take the vaccine by signing a consent from. Therefore, what employers can do is encourage as many employees as possible to take the vaccine through a variety of methods. The way employers communicate with their employees regarding the vaccine is very important. Whether the employer is encouraging or not will directly influence the employee’s attitude towards the vaccine. In order to be as effective as possible, the employer can explain clearly the importance of taking the vaccine and potential consequences of not taking the vaccine, if any. Please note that potential side-effects of vaccines should not be outlined by the employer, but by a relevant professional institution.
Moreover, if the employer is willing to provide support to employees during this vaccination process, such as arranging transportation or allowing employees to take leave during the vaccination period, it may be easier to encourage employees get vaccinated. Following the vaccination, employers can follow up on the vaccination status of their employees by collecting and recording relevant information, which includes: the date of the vaccination, the name of the institution where the employee received the vaccine, the health condition of the employee after vaccination, helping the employee to schedule the second vaccination, and more.
What can the employer do if an employee refuses to take the vaccine?
If the employee is insistent on not taking the vaccine without proper reason, legally speaking, the employer shall not impose labor disciplinary punishment, unless the company has internal rules and regulations that can be applied to such cases. Employers can also establish the relevant labor disciplinary rules in advance by following statutory collective consultation procedures. However, even without labor discipline rules, the employer may still change the work position of the employee if he/she refuses vaccination without proper reason, especially if the employee’s position may expose him/her to high risks of COVID-19 and affect the safety of the entire workplace. That being said, legally speaking, the employer shall not reduce the salaries of the employee if he/she does not consent to change his/her work position. Please note that the employer should consider explaining these consequences to their employees in advance if they adapt these policies at their company.
Summary of the situation
Until now, widespread vaccination has been the strongest weapon against COVID-19 and the Chinese government advocates that everyone who needs to take vaccine should take it. Currently, as required by the government, employers are obliged to notify and organize their employees to take the vaccine or make appointments to receive a vaccination.
However, vaccination in China is not yet compulsory, and employers may wish to adopt measures to encourage as many employees as possible to take the vaccine. If any employee refuses a vaccination without a proper reason, the employer may take action by changing his/her work position to ensure the safety of the workplace. However, no labor disciplines shall be imposed on employees refusing vaccination without a proper reason except if the company already has the relevant internal rules and regulations in place.
The authors work at law firm CMS China and contributed this article on behalf of Lexis Nexis, an AmCham China member company.