In a landmark ruling on 3 January, the Dongguan Municipal People’s Court, ordered the Hong Kong-owned Vtech corporation to pay 24,000 yuan in compensation to a job applicant it had refused employment on the grounds that he carried the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV).
In a court mediated settlement, Vtech promised in future to “consistently implement a fair and equitable employment policy” at its Dongguan plant, “prohibit any form of discrimination, and strengthen the administration its anti-discrimination policy, so as to prevent the occurrence of another HBV discrimination case.”
China Labour Bulletin, which has been closely involved in the case from its inception, believes the Employment Promotion Law, which went into effect on 1 January, probably had a significant impact on the court’s decision. The law has clear anti-discrimination provisions and states: “Employers can not refuse employment to prospective employees because they have or carry a communicable disease.”
Moreover, Regulations on Employment Services and Employment Management, issued on 30 October 2007, clearly state that employers can not reject job applicants on the grounds of their HBV status or force employees or applicants to take a HBV test. Employers who violate these clauses are to be fined up to 1000 yuan, and risk being sued in the civil courts.
The case began in July 2006, when a 24 year old university graduate Li Fei (pseudonym) went to Donguang looking for work. He applied for a job at Vtech and passed the two recruitment exams. On July 18, the company initiated employment formalities, taking copies of his graduation certificates and agreeing on a salary. The following day, the Human Resources Department told Li Fei that his medical test showed him to be HBV positive and therefore he would not be allowed to work at Vtech. Li Fei sought to explain that his HBV status would not affect his work or represent a health hazard for other employees but the company refused to change its mind.
Li Fei sought help from the HBV online support group Gan Dan Xiang Zhao, and on 22 January 2007 filed a civil law suit at the Dongguan Municipal People’s Court, the first HBV discrimination case heard in Guangdong. In his suit, Li Fei claimed 690 yuan for loss of work time, and 50,000 yuan in damages for emotional and psychological distress. After several protracted court hearings, the court finally mediated a settlement nearly one year after the suit was filed.
Legal experts, HBV activists and the plaintiff himself, all recognize the significance of the court ruling for others living with HBV in China. Following the court settlement, Li Fei wrote in a post on the Gan Dan Xiang Zhao website: “There are 120 million people in China like me living with HBV. We can work and study just like everyone else, however we suffer from routine discrimination in education, employment and marriage. Therefore this is not simply my case, it affects everyone living with HBV. I hope this justice can bring us clear skies in the future.”