Richelle, my school hasn’t paid me for 2 months, what do I do??
I receive emails and messages about this topic more than I like to admit. While most of you will never have this problem, it is a huge worry, and this can happen to the best of us.
Whether you found this article because you’re currently waiting for your school to pay you, or you’re thinking about teaching in China, and you’re worried about getting scammed, it’s important to know your legal rights.
This post will not only teach you how to get out of a sticky situation without losing your money but also some steps you can take to avoid this ordeal in the first place.
What are your rights as a teacher in China? Here's what to do if your Chinese school isn't paying you while you teach abroad.
My Personal Experience: Getting Paid Late By My School
In my first year of teaching full time in China, I had an issue: my school was not paying me on time. I was consistently getting my pay 1-2 weeks late, and whenever I asked why I was told that we “needed to wait until the accountants were finished.”
It wasn’t just me that was having this problem, the entire staff had to wait for the accountants to finish up each month. I honestly have no idea why they took so long to organize payment, especially since we were supposed to be paid on the 10th of the following month (super common in China). But Whatever it was, this late payment was affecting all of us.
What I Decided to Do
So, what did I do about my late payments? I took my contract to the English teacher who was sort of in charge of me and pointed out the line in my contract that stated I’d be paid on the 10th of the month.
When he told me this wasn’t possible, I said, “Why is this in my contract if it’s not possible? You shouldn’t put things in my official contract that the school can’t do. By not paying me on time, the school is breaking the contract with me.”
Do you want to know what happened? I was the ONLY employee in the entire school who was paid on time.
Making Waves in the Chinese Education System
Obviously, I don’t like to make problems or call attention to myself in a negative way, which is why I always pick my battles. To me, I needed to be paid on time so that I could send money home for student loans, and pay for my life in China. This is why I stood up for myself to ensure I was paid on time.
When I urged the other Chinese teachers to say something so that we could all be paid together, they told me it wasn’t possible for them to stand up to the administration. Obviously, this is a HUGE cultural difference. If a company or school was paying late in the US, you bet we’d all say something.
Sure, I felt a bit guilty about being the ONLY employee who was paid on time, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.
You Have Legal Rights and the Upper Hand
Firstly, it’s important to remember that you have legal rights in China. Contracts are taken extremely seriously here, and if you’re not paid on time, you actually have the legal right to leave your job with no notice (depending on your contract). Your school also legally has to let you switch schools if they break the contract, and if they refuse, you can involve the police.
In addition to legal backing, you also have the upper hand. According to the Bureau of Foreign Experts Affairs, as of 2017, the current Chinese market needs at least 800,000 foreign teachers while there are only 90,000 legally recognized teachers in Mainland China.
Obviously, there are plenty of teachers working illegally to help close the gap, but STILL. So many people don’t realize the power they hold in China. The school needs you more than you need them. You can always switch to another school legally if they break your contract by not paying you on time. You hold the power in this situation.
Leaving Your School Because They Don’t Pay
While my situation was able to be reconciled, I do have a few friends that have actually chosen to leave over issues of payment. I had two friends teaching at a technical college in Cangzhou, who were a solid month behind in payment. They would get their salaries weeks late, to the point that they were actually missing two months salary.
The two of them had asked and asked multiple times, to no avail. However, the school refused to pay them on time and showed no signs of changing.
Eventually, the two of them were so sick of this, they staged a strike and refused to teach any classes until they were paid. The strike lasted one day until the school pulled them aside and decided that they had “irreconcilable differences”.
The two were paid for the full 6 months they worked and were given their free flight home. They also received half their contract completion bonus.
You Don’t Have to Leave China if Your School Doesn’t Work Out
Obviously, none of us ever plan on leaving China early, but the two of them were so fed up with this school that they decided to go back home after 6 months. I understand why they made that decision, but the two of them definitely could’ve switched jobs legally if they really wanted to stay.
If you’re in a position where your school is NOT paying on time and you don’t see this ever improving, you CAN leave your school for another job with zero penalties, and your school MUST legally let you leave.
Enjoying Halloween with my students
What to Do if Your School Doesn’t Pay On Time
If you’re in a position where your school is not paying you on time, firstly, I want to say that I’m so sorry this is happening to you. You’re not alone in this (I’ve been there before), but just know that this is not normal or okay, and you’re within your rights to do something about it.
Here are the steps you need to take if your school is behind on paying you:
1. Look At Your Contract
The most important step is completely understanding your contract. What does your contract say about payment? Do they have a specific date set in the contract like mine did? Ideally, your job should have a specific payment date or payment week.
If for some reason you contract says something about you getting paid on a “specific date chosen by the school” each month, you’re still within your rights to complain, however, the wording makes your situation a little less clear.
If your contract says nothing about payment dates, that is definitely not ideal. However, I still think you should talk to your company and ask them to specify a specific date or payment week (ex: the third Friday of the month).
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