Beijing and Shanghai have extended maternity leave for eligible females by an additional 30 days and introduced the right to “parental leave,” or extra days off per year, for eligible parents of children under 3 years old. Employers with workforces in these locations will need to update their handbooks and leave policies to reflect these changes, which took immediate effect.
As the number of births in China continues to decrease, the Chinese government has been seeking to implement policies to reverse this trend and encourage married couples to have more children. Effective January 1, 2016, the government removed the one-child policy that was embodied in the national family planning regulations and for the first time since 1979 officially permitted eligible couples to have a second child.
In May 2021, in response to the census taken in 2020 which showed a significant decline in new births from 2016, the government further relaxed the regulations to permit eligible couples to have up to three children. In announcing the change in the policy, President Xi Jinping further announced that there would be measures to support families who have additional children.
Presumably, the municipal governments of Shanghai and Beijing have taken President Xi’s pledge of greater support to heart and announced new measures to encourage more eligible couples to have another child. This support, however, is to be borne by employers and not the national or local government. The national period of maternity leave is 98 days. In 2016, both the Shanghai and Beijing governments, among other municipal and provincial governments, provided eligible employees with an additional 30 days of maternity leave on top of the base 98-day period, bringing the total maternity leave period to 128 days. On November 25 and November 26, 2021, the Shanghai and Beijing governments, respectively, announced the following changes to their respective local family planning regulations, which took immediate effect:
- First, both Shanghai and Beijing have extended maternity leave from the current 128 days by an additional 30 days, bringing the total length of maternity leave to 158 days.
- Second, both municipalities introduced the concept of “parental leave,” which entitles eligible parents to five days of paid leave each year until the child reaches 3 years of age. According to the responses to the media by the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, the five days of paid leave accrues each year starting from the child’s birthday.
Accordingly, given these changes, employers are advised to update their handbooks and leave policies immediately to account for these new benefits for eligible employees. Whether employers will extend these benefits to those employees who have children who are not in accordance with the family planning regulations, such as a single parent or unmarried couples, is a matter of discretion. Further, employees will need to adjust the way they calculate the parental leave, as it will be dependent on the birthdate of the individual employee’s child, as opposed to the calendar year.
Finally, employers are advised to watch for further developments as additional provinces and municipalities may adopt these same or similar measures. Indeed, at the time of publication of this LawFlash, many other local provincial-level municipalities and provinces announced similar measures, including Zhejiang, Hubei, , Anhui, Chongqing, Henan, Jiangxi, and Qinghai.