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    China’s Top Court Continues Campaign Against ‘WeChat Overtime’

    Going home does not mean the work day is over for some Chinese employees.

    Work messages after working hours are a form of overtime work and should be compensated as such, the Supreme People’s Court has affirmed.

    On Thursday, China’s top court, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions jointly released a batch of 13 “model cases” involving wage arrears disputes.

    In one case, a former employee of a media company successfully sued his former employer for requiring him to respond to work messages during non-work hours without compensating him.

    After reviewing the man’s WeChat messages and comparing them to the company’s official working hours, a local court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and ordered the company to pay overtime compensation.

    In its analysis of the case, the Supreme People’s Court explained that online overtime work, compared to traditional overtime work, has made it harder for workers to provide evidence to prove their overtime hours.

    It endorsed the lower court’s approach of determining the extent of overtime work based on how much of the plaintiff’s rest time was taken up.

    The release of the model case came on the same day as another landmark case involving “invisible overtime” was voted by the public as one of the top 10 judicial cases in China in 2023. The case, which saw a female employee successfully sue her employer for having to send WeChat messages after work, was also written into the annual work report of the Beijing Higher People’s Court on Tuesday.

    “After-hours WeChat work is recognized as overtime work in accordance with the law, and workers’ rights to offline rest are guaranteed,” the work report said.

    While the government and the courts have sought to rein in China’s 996 working culture in recent years, the phenomenon of “invisible overtime” has emerged as a new subject of complaint among Chinese workers. A survey by online recruitment platform 51Job in 2022 found that 84.7% of workers still check work-related messages after working hours.

    Discussion of “invisible overtime” has dominated Chinese social media in the past year, with hashtags such as “Don’t message me after work” going viral. On the microblogging platform Weibo, users have celebrated the model case as the latest defense of employees’ offline rest time by Chinese courts.

    In another case that was celebrated by netizens last August, a local court in the southern city of Guangzhou ruled that the sudden death of a man who was responding to work messages while at home was a work-related injury.

    The latest model cases also included several involving wage arrears disputes between migrant workers and their employers, with the top court emphasizing employers’ responsibilities to pay migrant workers on time and to keep accurate records.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: VCG)