Anyone who has lived in China, especially those in the ESL field, might recognize this scenario: You show up to work ready to start the day but notice your boss in a frenzy, frantically dialing digits on the phone hoping to get a response from your co-worker who just so happens did not show up that day or provide anyone with a valid absence excuse. After a day or two of being MIA, it’s a safe bet that you’ll most likely never see your disappeared colleague ever again, because he or she probably pulled the infamous “midnight run”—grabbing your paycheck and leaving the company before the contract ends without telling a soul. While breaking your contract in China had very few repercussions in the past, times have changed and the government has now issued new measures to dissuade foreigners from breaking contracts and punishing those that do. Before you or someone you know decides to pull a midnight run, here is some information you should know concerning the edicts of breaching your employment contract in China.
Consequences for expats breaching their contracts
There are some new rules to the game that you should take into consideration before breaking your contract via midnight run. As of February 1, 2013, the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA) now has an online database where companies can put the personal information (including nationality and passport number) of foreign employees who’ve breached their contracts. (Click here to see a sample list of midnight running expats). Major breaches of privacy aside, having your information on this list will also red flag your name with other companies looking to hire you and seriously damage your credibility. Furthermore, if the company reports you, they can have you blacklisted from China for three years or more if they’re really looking to seek revenge. In the worst-case scenario, which might be more prevalent with major corporations rather than ESL institutions, a lawsuit can be filed. Though law suits are much less common in China than they are in the West, they’re definitely the last place a foreigner wants to be since, as China Law Blog warns, foreigners tend to do “poorly” in Chinese courts when facing contract disputes.
How to switch from one company to another
The good news is switching companies within China, even if it means leaving your contract early, is possible and relatively hassle-free as long as you didn’t burn any bridges. According to TeachAbroadChina.com, to switch ESL jobs you need a letter from your previous company stating that you no longer work there anymore (aka “release letter”), your personal medical examination results and the foreign expert certificate; all of which your ex-boss should have and lawfully provide. Once your new company has these documents, they should be able to do the rest to maintain your Z Visa and keep you in the country legally. However, if you leave on bad terms your old company can very well refuse, delay the transfer and/or “accidently lose” any of these vital documents. If this occurs, it will be very difficult for you to get a new Z Visa and hypothetically hinder your employment status at your new job. It could also be expensive by forcing you to pay for a new medical examination and make another visa trip to Hong Kong or your home country.
How to professionally quit your job
There are a number of reasons people decide to break their contract. Some of the most obvious range from personal health issues to family emergencies back home. Reasons like these should be deemed as tolerable excuses since your boss should understand the inevitable misfortunes life throws at us. On the other hand, while majority of companies/schools are reputable, there are shady operations out there that can make your life a living hell. Those trapped in this unfortunate circumstance have an eternal list of grievances and will do anything it takes to escape before things get too ugly. But no matter what your excuse is, by leaving you’re still breaching your contract and technically breaking the law. If you must resign, there are a few things you can do to help soften the crash landing.
First re-read the contract you signed because leaving might be a lot easier than you think. Some contracts, especially for certain ESL schools, have three-month trial periods for the teacher to see if he or she is a good fit for the school, making it easy to get out of the contract with little repercussions during that timeframe. My work contract, for example, also says that even though the employee should complete the term of the contract, it is possible to leave simply by giving a 30-day notice. Second, don’t lose your cool. Emotions can run high on both sides of the table when addressing this sensitive issue, but just remember that losing your temper can create a mountain of problems that could screw you over in the long run; especially if you need the paper work for another job within China as mentioned in the “switching job” section. Lastly, since every situation/company/contract is different, ask some of the others at your work about people who’ve quit in the past. They can most certainly give you better advice on the issue since they have seen it with their own eyes and possess a certain “insider” knowledge.
Use your best judgment
In conclusion, it’s always best to finish up your time accordingly, which shouldn’t be too difficult since most out there have only signed one-year contracts. While this may seem long at first, it’s really not. Instead of jumping the gun and escaping to the airport in the middle of the night, give it a chance—you may even discover that it’s not as bad as you thought. When I first moved to China, I was disappointed and considered leaving. But over time, it grew on me and I’ve been very content with my life here ever since. In the unfortunate incident that you do get stuck within an “evil” company who’s treating you poorly and truly believe negotiating or rationalizing with the boss will only make matters worse, then by all means tough times call for tough measures. Just make sure that you are fully aware of and willing to accept the consequences before taking off on a midnight run. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
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Keywords: pulling a midnight run breaking your contract breaching your contract
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37 Comments Add your comment
Can we get some sort of equilateral requirements? Not even sure how many times I've been screwed over by an employer. This thing should be a little less one sided. It's not like foreign teachers are the only people who break contracts. And actually, the fact that Chinese companies don't honor contracts too concretely only makes foreigners slightly more inclined to do the same.
Mar 26, 2013 09:43 Report Abuse
The fact there is nothing you can do if a company holds onto documents, is a huge floor in the rules. If that is fixed then there would be no more issues. Company can't find the documents? Then they should be responsible for putting the person up in a hotel in HK, as that is where you will have to go.
Mar 26, 2013 10:56 Report Abuse
What about also with those companies that help you get your visa but, refuse to give you the Foreign Expert booklet. They hold it for you for "security reasons" and never give it to you, not even after your contract is finished. If anyone has red the inside of the back cover of such booklet, there are a set of instructions that specify that the owner of the booklet must carry it at all times as a valid form of ID.
Mar 26, 2013 17:35 Report Abuse
Indeed. Never let the school have your identifying paperwork. Never leave them with your passport or FEP. They get a copy and that's it. Your passport is technically not even your property. It's the property of the issuing country. Same goes for all gov't docs. Never surrender your docs to anyone for any reason other than the proper authorities. You wouldn't give them, let's say your driver's license or your credit cards would you? So why let them hold on to your FEP. It's your identity! Most companies don't follow the rules. For example, did you know that if you are NOT German or from Singapore (I believe), then your company must enroll you into the Social Insurance program for foreigners. They are suppose to do it 30 days after hiring you. It's a good deal because there is an 80% employer match. So, no company wants to tell you about it. But it's suppose to happen.
Apr 05, 2013 20:01 Report Abuse
That is very interesting. I remember a few years back and had one. I grabbed it and they imediately swipped it back and I got an angry look, like i touched a boob or something. I asked for it as it was mine but they said, to my face "We have to keep it by law". I did question that and they said "Yeah, it is a crazy law but it is how it is as we have to be able to show the police if they come asking or they can close us down right away". Lies are so much fun.
Apr 07, 2013 19:59 Report Abuse
It is the employees document. I actually just spoke with someone who works for the PSB and they told me they have ordered companies to give the FEC to the employee. Companies don't want you to have it as you can actually cancel the document yourself. If you do, it does make it a bit harder to get a new one, but it is possible.
Nov 22, 2014 17:29 Report Abuse
I've changed my job 4 times with just the release letter and a second document which is like a reference. I've never needed a Foreign Experts book in Jiangsu and Fujian provinces. The health check book can save you the expense of another check but is not essential. They can "lose" a release letter but they can easily issue another one. OK so now there's a black list of foreign experts, probably a good thing to get rid of the misfits. Can an evil employer put you there unfairly with no appeal? Ha, I suspect so. Once I was threatened with being blacklisted because I resigned when I hadn't been paid even though I had a contract clause allowing 30 day resignation. My resignation letter caused me to get paid because they could see I was serious about cutting my losses if I had to. Some of these guys think ethics is a county in England. To make the playing field level, how about a blacklist of schools?
Mar 26, 2013 21:36 Report Abuse
The article gives good advise.. most contracts have a section that allows the foreign to get out of their contract. In the foreign expert certificate contract, provided by the Chinese government (if you are legal employed with a FEC), allows any foreign out of their contract with 30 days notice. Once written notice (which can be written in an email, which is date stamped), the employer, must release you from the contract and give you your release documents (3 documents in all). That said, once you have given notice, the company can release you anytime before those 30 days, but you will still be release without problems. You might want to check out the website: http://www.safea.gov.cn/content.shtml?id=12746016 (it has an English button) to check if you can respond to or complain about or dispute claims... I know there is a place that complaints can be made with the Chinese government...but for only foreigners that are LEGAL employed..the government won't help foreigner working illegally in China.
Mar 27, 2013 08:45 Report Abuse
After five years with the same school as a foreign expert ending in 2009, I was told I needed a release letter, but the school wouldn't give me one. Even when I had the immigration dept and the labor dept phone them to inform them they were required to do this, they still stalled. To this day, years later, it is stilled not received, affecting my future, to say the least. Strange thing is that we left on good terms. School said if anyone phoned to ask about me, they would say good things. The main three reasons they gave for no 'release letter' were 1. That they had already given it to me--not true; 2. They didn't know how to compose it, they said--I offered to write it for them; 3. Finally, they had the tenacity to say that I was the one who was suppose to give them a letter. Although it has affected my future teaching in China, I never went beyond writing a complaint to the Eductation Department in English, which I never sent (I was afraid no one would understand). Didn't want to make trouble for the school where there were many young children present. I think the real reason was the school was trying to hide something to do with tax, as contracts fail to stipulate many details such as how many months a year one will be working, before or after tax salary, etc.
Mar 28, 2013 16:24 Report Abuse
A release letter is simply a document that tells the government that you no longer work for your employer. Sometimes it is referred to as a recommendation letter. However, it is not a recommendation letter that offers praise or criticism. Actually, each province has a different format of what is accepted, but usually it is just a written letter that specifies that the contract has ended either prematurely or upon dissolution. The letter should contain the original contract dates, the names of the parties, your passport number, a statement regarding the intent to vacate, any outstanding payments or penalties have been satisfied, signatures and a red company stamp. That's it. No employee evaluation is required. I had this issue with my current employer. They gave me this form and told me that my last employer needed to fill it out, including employer comments. I tried to tell them that the gov't would reject their form and sure enough the gov't did. Luckily, I had already written a release letter myself and had the last company stamp it. It worked! Usually just a paragraph with the above info works just fine. Hell, if worse comes to worse, just Photoshop the damn company stamp from your contract onto a letter yourself. The guy down at the gov't bureau doesn't have the motivation to verify that it's real. Nobody, and I am 100% convinced of this, NOBODY plays by the rules here. Why should you?
Apr 05, 2013 20:18 Report Abuse
There are places, theoretically, but they won't actually help you. What you will probably get is a run around, which is where one person or department will send you to another department, until you realize no-one is going to help you. And you will only be able to participate in this pointless run-around if you have a Chinese national to speak for you.
Apr 17, 2013 20:13 Report Abuse
One has to be very careful about trusting these articles. They are usually written with a bias. Often they are written by Chinese employers (or authors paid by Chinese employers) to discourage foreign workers to run away from their poorly managed companies. Most of these sites are loaded with fear and misinformation to push a specific end. Losing a foreign worker is bad news for a Chinese company. They are meant to protect them and keep track of them. When one of their worker's disappear, they look bad. Especially if it has happened more than once. Blacklisting is also very, very rare. China is such a large bureaucracy and has such a large population that maintaining any sort of national blacklist for hiring is completely non-feasible. If they blacklisted every ex-pat that had a problem with their company, there would be about 6 people left to hire. Most ESL schools are willing to hire the dregs of society to teach because of such a high demand and short supply. They aren't going to continue to decrease that supply. And the idea that they could potentially keep you out of China for three years is beyond absurd. Could you imagine the paperwork needed to have someone banned from a country for three years? And lawsuits? Perhaps if you are running a large corporation, and you try and skip out with millions of dollars hidden in your briefcase. The average ESL school doesn't have the time or the money to pursue a lawsuit against you. If every Chinese company sued their foreign workers, then there would be no lawyers, judges, or courts for any other issues in China.
Apr 17, 2013 20:29 Report Abuse
Wish any of this was applicable to the Chinese employees - they are the ones that cause us all of the real headaches....The Foreign employees generally work just fine as long as you keep it clear and pay them. Despite these basics, we still have Chinese employees that can't be bothered to honor a basic contract or even give notice when changing jobs.
Apr 19, 2013 15:56 Report Abuse
There is still not much info on this list anywhere on the internet, including the SAFEA site. Is this actually for real? How does the process work? Is there due process or just a one sided reporting scheme that companies can use to try to further control teachers?
Jul 27, 2013 07:28 Report Abuse
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