Employee in China awarded compensation for “invisible overtime”

An employee has sued her former employer for unpaid overtime, which includes work-related communications beyond regular working time.
By: | February 16, 2024

A Beijing court has ruled in favour of an employee seeking compensation for work-related communications conducted outside regular business hours. President Kou Fang of the Beijing High People’s Court highlighted the case during his address to the 16th Beijing Municipal People’s Congress, emphasising the court’s commitment to protecting employees’ rights.

The plaintiff, identified as Li, sued her former employer for unpaid overtime, citing over 500 hours of additional work during her one-year tenue. Li frequently communicated with colleagues and clients via WeChat after hours, weekends, and public holidays. Despite the employer’s argument that these communications were necessary for client demands, the court sided with the employee.

The court mandated the employer to pay Li 30,000 yuan (US$4,214) as it deemed the text exchanges as “fixed and periodic”, qualifying them as overtime work deserving of payment. Additionally, the court found that the employer had implemented an unauthorised “flexible working hour system”, as confirmed by the local labour department, reported The Sun.

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This ruling marks the first instance in China where text messaging has been officially recognised as substantial labour, regardless of the physical workplace. Termed as “invisible overtime”, this recognition aims to preserve employees’ rights to offline rest.