Some Chinese employers are discriminating against covid survivors

Some Chinese employers are discriminating against covid survivors
Photo: Aly Song (Reuters)
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Some employers in China are refusing to hire job candidates who have previously had covid, according to recent Chinese media reports.

“We don’t want anyone who has ever tested positive, or has been sent to centralized quarantine,” read one job ad for a goods sorter and packer, according to the news site Yicai (link in Chinese).

Others employers are perhaps less explicit in their job ads but will retract job offers upon learning of a candidate’s past covid infection by obtaining their private health records, according to Chinese news reports. This violates both the country’s labor contract law and the infectious diseases prevention and control law, according to People’s Court Daily, a newspaper run by China’s highest court.

One reporter from Guancha, the nationalist tabloid, posed as a job seeker (link in Chinese) and recounted a conversation with an agent who was recruiting workers to work at a car parts plant. The reporter’s revelation that they had previously contracted covid quickly turned out to be a dealbreaker .

“Previously positive? That won’t do,” said the agent, according to the Guancha reporter’s account. “The factory won’t accept that either, they can look up your infection record.”

Some employers have justified this discrimination by describing it as
an attempt to avert disruptions to their business operations, especially given China’s stringent zero-covid policy—and the often-opaque and arbitrary ways in which those rules are enforced.

“We move two to three hundred thousand yuan’s ($30,000 - $44,000) worth of goods a day, and having a worker who has recovered from covid then re-testing positive—the consequences are hard to bear,” one manager at a fruit distributor told Yicai.

China is cracking down on covid discrimination

Authorities have gotten wind of this employment discrimination and have promised to curb it.

Last week, the Supreme People’s Court—the highest court in China—issued a statement banning discrimination against job candidates on the grounds of a previous covid infection. The statement followed a decision by the Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress, which has banned employers from terminating contracts or refusing to hire people who have previously contracted an infectious disease.

But the issue goes beyond employer discrimination and touches on data privacy, too. In some cases, it appears that employers have managed to access job seekers’ personal health data, in order to reject candidates based on their covid infection history.

“The fact that some companies are discriminating against covid survivors on the grounds that they have been a reflection of the loopholes in the current management of covid survivors’ private information,” People’s Court Daily wrote in a commentary last week (link in Chinese).

In Shanghai, authorities have begun limiting access (link in Chinese) to citizens’ covid testing records on the government services app. As of last week, one’s
test records are only searchable going back two weeks, compared to three months previously.

“The huge amount of personal information collected in fighting the pandemic has involved almost all citizens, and the consequences of any problem will be incalculable,” Yicai wrote in a commentary yesterday (link in Chinese).