Labour and employment: foreign firms in China

Baker McKenzie FenXun

Fielding one of the pre-eminent labour and employment law practices in China and Hong Kong, Baker McKenzie FenXun (Baker McKenzie‘s joint operation office with FenXun Partners, which provides integrated international and PRC law capacity from a single platform) advises on the full range of contentious and non-contentious employment and incentives work. The dedicated team covers immigration, pensions, tax, investigations, disputes, and data privacy and protection; and is consistently instructed by prominent names from the corporate, media and technology, consumer goods and retail, financial services and chemicals sectors on complex and multi-jurisdictional employment law issues. In Hong Kong, Jonathan Isaacs heads the China employment practice, which includes Shanghai-based Zheng Lu, who routinely leads large employment mandates, such as mass layoffs, restructuring, investigations, and employee unrests/strikes; and associate Mona Qi, who focuses on general labour and employment advice.

Practice head(s):

Jonathan Isaacs

Other key lawyers:

Zheng LuMona Qi

DLA Piper

From Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong offices, DLA Piper‘s China team fields specialists in a range of sectors, including banking, financial services and insurance, retail, life sciences and medical devices, transport, technology, and hospitality; and the practice is well-known for its expertise in layoffs and redundancies, workplace-related mental health and stress, harassment, bullying and discrimination, as well as evolving scenarios such as the pandemic’s impact on employment issues. Clients additionally appreciate the firm’s international presence, which includes 90 offices across 40 countries. Overseeing the firm’s expansion of its mainland China employment law practice in recent years, Beijing-based China practice head Johnny Choi assists multinational clients at senior management and boardroom level with employment matters, including employee disputes. Senior consultant Ying Li and consultant Zhou Xu, both are based in Shanghai, are also names to note.

Practice head(s):

Johnny Choi

Other key lawyers:

Ying Li; Xu Zhou


DLA Piper is our trusted partner for providing employment legal advice in Beijing. We appreciate its commercial and client-centric approach that we have experienced.

The consultants from DLA are very professional and have a strong willingness to provide support on employment aspects.

Great for frequent communication and follow-up activities, which make the co-operation smoother and more fruitful.

DLA takes a big-picture outlook in relation to our business without compromising the local context expertise.

Able to present competitive fees based on the complexity of the project.

Johnny Choi is our partner – we always appreciate his ability to strike the right balance, providing clear and practical advice that is grounded in a deep understanding of us as a client and our culture. This is truly unique and much appreciated.

Johnny Choi and senior consultant Ying Li are flexible with their availability to jump onto a ZOOM call with our legal and business team at short notice, and talk through matters in both Mandarin and English; and they provide succinct advice and practical solutions for local contexts using their in-depth knowledge of subject matters.

Xu Zhou is very dedicated and supportive in relation to employment issues; she has plenty of experience in employment matters, and always has a way forward.

Johnny Choi speaks very fluent English and Chinese and has been very helpful to us in terms of communication.’

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

With longstanding experience in advising corporations on challenging workforce matters, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP‘s mainland China-based team combines a full-service employment practice with expertise in China’s evolving employment laws and data protection laws and regulations, the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and China’s anti-corruption laws. The practice advises on the employment aspects of M&A, restructuring and contract drafting, while clients also benefit from the team’s assistance with hiring, termination, and workforce reductions. The practice additionally stands out for its ability to respond to the pace of change in China’s employment laws, frequently advising on amendments to handbooks, policies, pay practices, executive compensation, employee benefits, international secondments and expatriation. Team head Lesli Ligorner is a well-regarded employment and immigration practitioner with an impressive and longstanding list of international clients, Todd Liao advises large multinationals active in China, and Qian Nie is a key associate. In Hong Kong, Charles Mo is a contentious and non-contentious employment specialist, and works closely with the mainland China-based team.

Practice head(s):

Lesli Ligorner

Other key lawyers:

Todd Liao; Charles Mo (Hong Kong); Qian Nie


My business people and I completely rely on Morgan Lewis’ expertise in the employment area in Hong Kong and Shanghai. They have been able to walk us through some very difficult situations with good conclusions.

They are completely available when we need them despite the time difference.

They give real-world advice as opposed to ivory tower advice.

They know how to work with and talk to our business people.

Key clients

Gilead Corporation


American Greetings

Bristol Myers Squibb



Bird & Bird

Advising on national employment legislation, in addition to international employment directives, Bird & Bird‘s Greater China employment team leverages support from the firm’s dedicated employment teams, which are based in its 30 offices worldwide. Pattie Walsh, who has been at the forefront of several key developments in employment law, leads the firm’s Asia-Pacific employment practice from Hong Kong; she is the driving force behind the firm’s ethical workplace initiative, which addresses issues such as domestic violence and the role of employee activism in influencing organisations’ strategy. Ying Wang leads the employment practice in mainland China and acts for international and domestic clients on both contentious and non-contentious employment issues. Wang is supported by managing associate Lorraine Sun who also advises on employee data protection, union matters, employment-related investigations, as well as compliance matters.

Practice head(s):

Pattie WalshYing Wang

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP‘s Shanghai-based employment practice covers the entire spectrum of contentious and non-contentious employment laws across the region, from general employment offers/contracts, employee benefit obligations, employee handbooks and internal compliance policies, to lay-offs, and co-operation with trade unions and employment representatives. Clients also look to the practice for specific employment advice in relation to transactions (including M&A), restructuring and disputes. Counsel Gillian Miao, who handles investigations, labour disputes, company restructurings and employment policy drafting, heads the PRC employment practice from the firm’s joint operation with Kewei Law Firm in Shanghai, which facilitates direct access to PRC law advice; and China corporate head Nanda Lau assists with both contentious and non-contentious employment matters in the PRC, including employment termination, employee transfer and redundancy issues.

Practice head(s):

Gillian Miao

Other key lawyers:

Nanda Lau

Key clients


Boston Scientific





Hogan Lovells International LLP

Hogan Lovells International LLP‘s Greater China employment practice is well known for its extensive experience in advising multinational clients on their employment-related issues. Recent highlights include advising on high-profile and sensitive employment matters, such as pandemic-triggered workforce compensation adjustments, the reduction of employees in China, and the roll-out of non-competition restrictions. The key employment partner in Shanghai, Philip Cheng assists with large corporate reorganisations and complex employee terminations; and in Beijing, further partner-level support is provided by Sherry Gong, who particularly focuses on the education, TMT and life science industries.

Practice head(s):

Philip Cheng

Other key lawyers:

Sherry Gong


Philip Cheng demonstrates a very high level of professionalism. He impressed me greatly with his knowledge of the law, understanding of clients, and unique insights, and the team also respond very quickly.’

Simmons & Simmons

Well known for cross-border, complex and sensitive matters where clients have substantial regulatory exposure, Simmons & Simmons‘ longstanding employment practice can boast a marquee client list that includes leading international investment banks and other financial institutions, insurers, government agencies and multinationals; and the team regularly works alongside the firm’s cross-border investigations group in relation to organisations’ internal employment and whistleblowing investigations. Qualified in both the PRC and New York, May Lu in Shanghai is experienced in litigation, labour-related arbitrations, and regulatory and anti-corruption investigations. Fiona Loughrey advises on all aspects of the employment relationship from Hong Kong. Matthew Durham left the firm in January 2021.

Practice head(s):

Fiona Loughrey

Other key lawyers:

May Lu


Well known for its longstanding assistance to European companies in China, CMS‘ employment and pensions team regularly advises on employment contracts, pension schemes, international secondments/executive transfers, redundancies, employment disputes and trade union relations. Clients particularly laud the firm’s global network that extends to over 40 countries, as well as its enviable sector expertise in automotive, chemicals, manufacturing, and machinery and equipment. In Shanghai, group head Jeanette Yu has extensive expertise in advising clients on Chinese labour law; and Sophy Wang is an experienced associate, who in addition to corporate and commercial law, assists with labour law matters.

Practice head(s):

Jeanette Yu

Other key lawyers:

Sophy Wang


In a recent 12-month period, the workload of Deacons‘ Hong Kong-based employment and pension practice ranged from health and safety issues to data privacy, and restructuring, redundancy and other cost-saving measures. Corporate commercial group head Cynthia Chung also leads the HR and pensions practice, and has experience in labour-related matters, including obtaining employment visas for expatriates and their families. Promoted to partner in July 2021, Helen Liao is dual-qualified in both mainland China and Hong Kong, and has substantial experience in employment and immigration matters, including cross-border employment arrangements, income tax compliance solutions and complex multi-jurisdictional labour issues.

Practice head(s):

Cynthia Chung

Other key lawyers:

Helen Liao


Deacons is very professional in relation to HR management.

Helen Liao always provides efficient business advice that is compliant with local law.

Helen Liao, is very professional and gave us a lot of useful advice on HR management.

The team, particularly Helen Liao (Haiyan Liao) has a very sound understanding of labour laws, as well as the culture, in both Hong Kong and mainland China, enabling it to provide very good service consultations for Hong Kong companies backed by mainland Chinese investment.’

Key clients

Mass Transit Railway Corporation

LVMH Group

Ralph Lauren


Jardine Matheson Holdings

Schroder Investment Management (Hong Kong)

HashKey Group

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

The Polytechnic University of Hong Kong

Maxim’s Caterers