The Rules on Certain Issues Concerning Administrative Cases Involving Work-related Injury Insurance (“Rules”) issued by the Supreme People’s Court of China came into effect on September 1, 2014. The Rules are of guiding significance for resolving disputes on work-related injuries as they have clarified the standards and factors used to identify a work-related injury as set forth in the Regulation on Work-Related Injury Insurance (the “Regulation”) enacted by the State Council of China in 2011.
Pursuant to the Regulation, the three factors used to identify a work-related injury include whether the injury (1) occurs during working hours, (2) occurs at the workplace, and (3) has any relation to work. Specifically, Article 14 of the Regulation provides that an employee’s injury would be deemed as work-related if the employee is:
- injured in a work-related accident at the workplace during working hours;
- injured in an accident while performing work-related preparations or activities before or after completing projects at the workplace during working hours;
- injured by violence or other unexpected hazards in performing work-related responsibilities at the workplace during working hours;
- afflicted with an occupational disease;
- injured or goes missing during the work-related travel period;
- injured in a traffic accident in which the employee does not assume main responsibility or in an urban rail transit, passenger ferry or train accident on the way to or from work; or
- injured at work in other circumstances stipulated in the laws and administrative regulations.
In practice, however, law practitioners in China have not found the Regulation helpful in determining qualifications of a work-related injury as the Regulation merely sets forth general principles without explaining the timespan of working hours, the scope of the workplace or a definition of what the term “work-related” means. Such vagueness caused inconsistent interpretation and decisions by local administrative agencies and courts.
In an apparent attempt at resolving the above-mentioned problems, the Supreme People’s Court enacted the Rules as judicial interpretations to provide a clearer guidance for local courts to better resolve disputes over work-related injury matters. Generally speaking, the Rules give a broader but clearer interpretation to the factors and standards used to determine a work-related injury.
First, the Rules interpret the standards and factors for identifying a work-related injury by setting forth the following circumstances where an employee’s injury would qualify as a work-related injury. Specifically, an injury should be deemed as work-related when:
- the employee is injured during working hours at the workplace, and the employer or the social insurance administrative department has no evidence to prove that the injury is caused by any non-work-related reason;
- the employee is injured in an activity organized by the employer, or injured when assigned by the employer to participate in an activity sponsored by other organizations;
- the employee is injured during working hours when traveling between worksites and within a reasonable proximity of such worksites when performing job responsibilities; and
- the employee is injured during the working hours and within a reasonable zone from the workplace while performing work-related activities.
Second, the Rules define for the first time “work-related travel period” as:
- the period during which the employee participates in activities related to his or her job duties outside the workplace as assigned by the employer or required by business needs;
- the period during which the employee is sent by the employer to attend an external training or conference; and
- other periods during which the employee travels for work-related purposes.
Lastly, but of equal significance, the Rules expand the scope of “workplace” by defining “the route to and from work” to include:
- the reasonable route between the employee’s workplace and his registered residence, habitual residence or the dormitory provided by his employer when traveling within a reasonable period of time before and after work;
- the reasonable route between the employee’s workplace and the residence of his spouse, parents or children when traveling within a reasonable period of time before and after work;
- the reasonable route taken to perform activities necessary for living and work when traveling within a reasonable period of time before and after work; and
- other reasonable routes taken when travelling to and from work within a reasonable period of time before and after work.
While the definition of “the route to and from work” above provides certain clarification on the scope of “workplace” and allows for more flexibility in terms of timespan and location of injuries occurred on the way to or from work for purposes of determining a work-related injury, more guidance is expected from the Supreme People’s Court on how to determine a “reasonable route” and a “reasonable period of time” for local courts to unify judicial decisions and effectively resolve disputes on work-related injuries.