Alibaba fires employee who brought sexual harassment complaint
Alibaba has fired the female employee who publicly accused her manager of sexual assault in August, according to reports from central China news outlet Dahe Daily. 10 other employees were also fired for leaking the accusations - originally posted on the company's intranet - to Weibo, where the case rapidly stirred a massive online furor.
The employee, identified only by her surname Zhou, received a termination letter on 25 November with immediate effect, which she subsequently posted online. The letter cites her publicisation of the accusation as the reason for termination; it violates a clause in Alibaba's code of conduct that states employees are not to publicise 'inappropriate remarks' to the outside world, and has also allegedly had repercussions to the company.
She did not receive severance pay.
Zhou's original accusation sparked a great deal of upheaval, both online and within Alibaba. The company suspended several staff involved in the incident within hours of her account going viral, and CEO Daniel Zhang posted a response on the company's intranet calling on Alibaba's HR function and the managers of the implicated departments to apologise for not taking timely action. The accused manager, surnamed Wang, was fired a few days later, and his superior as well as the HR head of that business unit resigned shortly after that.
The Alibaba scandal is not unique; sexual harassment is common in China's business drinking culture, where employees, including women, are expected to drink heavily with clients - and often preyed on by both the clients and their own superiors. Such assaults are usually covered up by policies such as Alibaba's which deter employees from talking about the attacks. Zhou's accusation was therefore unusual in how far and wide it spread, enabled by social media, and the company's response and imposition of consequences on the attackers - although that only happened after the incident had gone viral.
Sadly, her firing indicates that such consequences are still not confined to the offenders. China does not have a general whistleblowing law, and corporate whistleblowers are protected from retaliation only by their companies' internal policies - which, even at a large multinational like Alibaba, are not necessarily friendly to those who expose wrongdoing.