In recent years, female employees have played an increasingly important role in the workforce structure. Thus, in order to create more room for female employees to elevate their professional prospects and to make their presence known in the organization, which is the very first step towards gender equality in our society, the Government has introduced many legislative documents aiming at empowering female employees. The Labour Code 2019 has been issued with many crucial points to address gender inequality and workplace harassment.
One mighty improvement of Labour Code 2019 that must be mentioned is the application of disciplinary dismissal on employees committing sexual harassment in the workplace. According to Labour Code 2019, Article 125.2, the disciplinary dismissal shall be applied to “The employee who Committed the act of disclosing business and technology secrets, infringing upon the intellectual property rights of the employer, committing the act of causing serious damage or threatening to cause particularly serious damage to property, interests of the employer or committing sexual harassment at the workplace as stipulated in internal labour rules”.
Despite the fact that this regulation is applicable to both male and female employees, the socio-economic setting of Vietnam indicates that female employees are frequent targets of sexual harassment in the workplace. Thus, the regulation addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is regarded as a powerful mechanism to protect and create a healthy working environment for employees in general and female employees in particular.
Maternity protection for female employees
Labor Code 2019, Article 137.2 has amended the clause “from the 7th month of their pregnancy, female employees performing heavy labour are entitled to switch to lighter work or have their normal working hours reduced by 01 hour while enjoying full salary.” (Labour Code 2012) into “Female employees performing heavy, hazardous, dangerous or extremely heavy, hazardous or dangerous occupations or jobs that adversely affect reproductive function and child-rearing in their pregnancy and having notices sent to the employer, the employer shall switch the aforementioned jobs to lighter, safer work or reduce 1 hour of normal working hours without cutting salary, rights, and benefit. The implementation period shall last until the end of the term of 12 months to raise the child.”
Basically, the Labour Code 2019 expands the scope as well as providing more detailed regulations in cases where female employees can reduce their normal working hours without any decrease in salary. This provision also specifies the period during which female employees are entitled to this right, which is from the seventh month of pregnancy to the end of the period of rearing the child under 12 months of age, while Labour Code 2012 only stipulates the starting point of application of this regulation without mentioning whether the female employee’s rights shall be terminated at the end of the maternity period or at the end of the term of rearing the child under 12 months of age.
Privilege to sign new labor contract
Labour Code 2019, Article 137.3 also adds the following provisions: “In case the labor contract expires while the female employee is pregnant or nursing a child under 12 months old, she shall be given the privilege to enter into a new labor contract”. Although the regulation means to provide more rights to female employees, the law has not yet defined how the “privilege to sign new labour contract” should be understood. It is unclear whether this regulation can be understood in the way that when the female employee would like to sign a new contract, the employer is obligated to renew the labour contract, and in that case, how long the term of the new labor contract shall be, and how the terms of the new contract shall be stipulated.
Ensuring the rights of female employees in the postpartum period
Labour Code 2019, Article 140 stipulates: “Employees are guaranteed their old jobs when they return to work after their leave as prescribed in Clauses 1, 3 and 5 Article 139 of this Code without any reduction in salary and rights and benefits compared to the period before maternity leave; In case the former position is no longer available, the employer must arrange another job for them with the salary not lower than the salary level before maternity leave”. Accordingly, recognizing the rights of female employees after maternity leave will not be less or less favorable than before maternity leave.
In general, the Labour Code 2019 has many novel regulations related to securing the rights of female employees and balancing the interests between female and male employees by ensuring gender equality. One of the most prominent changes aiming at protecting and creating a healthy working environment for female employees is regulation that protects employees, especially female employees from sexual harassment at the workplace by the application of the most severe discipline – dismissal if there is an act of sexual harassment at the workplace.