The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court held that the employee shall accept employer’s reasonable adjustment of management methods due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the employee’s delayed responses, without justification during work from home, amount to a legitimate cause for termination of employment.
Mr. Yang (“employee”) served as an algorithm engineer at a technology company (“employer”). Due to the pandemic, the employer had arranged for the employee to work from home since 2020 and required the employee to keep online during working hours and respond within half an hour. However, the employee responded to his supervisor hours later on multiple occasions or even did not respond within the same day, based on which the employer issued three warning letters to the employee and eventually terminated the employment. The employee argued that his delayed responses were due to being occupied by other work tasks, and then filed labour arbitration and started court proceedings with the claims to find the employer’s wrongful termination of employment and payment of indemnification.
The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court heard the dispute and eventually ruled in favor of the employer based on: (1) it was unavoidable for employers to adjust management methods during the pandemic period and employees shall accept such reasonable adjustment; (2) the employee failed to provide reasonable explanations for delayed responses which had seriously violated the labour discipline; and (3) the employer’s termination of employment with the employee was legitimate.
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
It is noteworthy that the No. 1 Beijing Intermediate Court reasoned in its judgment, that employees shall accept the employer’s reasonable change of management method during the pandemic period, e.g. work from home through online office systems. This case provides a good reference for employers in China on how to exert effective staff management even during the pandemic period, when working from home is adopted.