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China’s Top Court Deems Brutal ‘996’ Overtime Policy Illegal

Published: August 27, 2021
SHANGHAI, CHINA : Citroen car designers work in PSA Peugeot Citroen China Tech Center in the outskirts of Shanghai, China. (Image: Lucas Schifres/Getty Images)

China’s Supreme People’s Court has deemed the overtime practice of “996”, working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, illegal, specifically targeting policies common among many Chinese technology firms. 

On Thursday, August 26 China’s Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security published guidelines on what constitutes overtime work, an issue that has attracted widespread attention as of late. 

While working such grueling hours is a badge of honor for many companies and employees and some business leaders believe the practice is a competitive advantage that China has over other countries, authorities are not seeing it in the same light. 

In the court’s ruling they outlined 10 cases, including industries outside of the tech industry, in which employees were forced to work overtime to a point that put them in harm’s way. 

In one case a tech firm — that was not identified — asked employees to sign agreements to give up overtime pay. The court ruled that this was unlawful. 

In another case a media staffer was said to have passed out in an office bathroom at 5:30 a.m. before dying of heart failure. The victim’s family was awarded about 400,000 yuan (US$61,710) after the court ruled the death was work-related. 

Kendra Schaefer, head of digital research at consultancy Trivium China, said “We are seeing a strong trend towards encouraging people to use the court system to go after tech companies. We think civil litigation will increase.” Bloomberg reported. 

The court’s guidelines came down a month after TikTok owner ByteDance said that it would formally end its weekend overtime policy beginning Aug. 1 just two weeks after its short-video rival Kuaishou announced they would be doing the same. 

The ruling also comes at a time when Beijing has been implementing a regulatory crackdown on the country’s tech-giants that is targeting issues ranging from monopolistic behavior to consumer rights.