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End job discrimination against COVID-19 patients

By Ban Xiaohui | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-16 07:23
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The central government has taken many measures and made continuous efforts since 2020 to protect people who have tested positive for COVID-19 against employment discrimination. For example, in 2020, it announced that workers from COVID-19 hotspots should not be discriminated against. But discrimination against recovered patients has not stopped due to uncertainties over the effects of the pandemic and some employers' and people's misconception about the novel coronavirus.

Therefore, the central authorities have stepped up efforts to protect the employment rights of recovered COVID-19 patients and thus ensure they are not discriminated against in the job market.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the National Health Commission jointly released a document on Aug 1, barring employers and human resources agencies from refusing to hire people just because they had tested positive for, but recovered from, COVID-19. The document also prohibits employers from firing employees for just testing positive for COVID-19.

According to China's Labor Law and Employment Promotion Law, people have equal right to employment, so discrimination against people who have recovered from COVID-19 in the hiring process or the workplace is an infringement on their employment rights. The departments also made it clear that employers and human resources agencies should provide equal opportunities and treatment for workers and job seekers, and employees should not be discriminated against based on the Employment Promotion Law.

The Supreme People's Court, too, issued a guideline in 2020, saying employers should not terminate employees merely because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or are suspected to be infected with or are an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, or have been quarantined or are residents of a COVID-19 hotspot. As for employers and recruitment platforms, they are barred from including any discriminatory information in their listings.

Although employers have the right to check workers' health code, the results of COVID-19 tests are part of an individual's personal information, so employers and potential recruiters would be violating the law on personal information protection if they demand to see the test results of workers and job seekers.

The medical records of recovered patients are part of their personal information, which is protected by the Personal Information Protection Law. And the leakage or illegal use of such information is a violation of the law. Such information can be accessed only for specific purposes. The document also makes it clear that employers have no right to check the COVID-19 test results of other people, except as part of pandemic protection and control requirements.

The discrimination against recovered COVID-19 patients can be attributed to some employers' fear and misconception about the virus.

Yet the authorities need to raise public awareness about how the virus is transmitted and quell rumors, so employers no longer treat recovered patients as potential virus carriers. They should also strengthen their oversight on nucleic acid test results and medical history protection, so as to prevent employers and human resources agencies from illegally accessing workers' COVID-19 test results.

As for the law enforcement departments, they should take measures to stop employers from violating workers' rights. And human resources departments should strengthen supervision of employers, and encourage people to report job discrimination against recovered patients.

In fact, the notice encourages recovered patients who experience discrimination in the job market to file a case in court against their employers or potential employers, and makes it clear that the latter should be held liable, and therefore compensate the employees or job-seekers, for any discrimination.

But since the low financial compensation under the existing laws cannot fully safeguard the equal employment rights of employees and job-seekers who have recovered from COVID-19, the government should increase the compensation to heighten employers' sense of responsibility.

Employees who are fired just because they have contracted the virus can seek administrative intervention for a negotiated solution, or seek arbitration to force their employers, according to the Labor Law, to pay compensation for illegally terminating the labor contract.

Job discrimination makes recovered COVID-19 patients feel like outcasts and causes financial damage to them. So it is necessary to end job discrimination and better safeguard employees' legitimate rights, in order to build a harmonious society.

The author is an associate professor of the School of Law at Wuhan University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

If you have a specific expertise, or would like to share your thought about our stories, then send us your writings at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn, and comment@chinadaily.com.cn.

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