In China, it's been relatively common practice in recent years for employees to work 12-hour days, six days per week. After repeated calls for regulation, however, the notoriously grueling "996" schedule, working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days per week, was deemed illegal by the Supreme People's Court.

"Legally, workers have the right to corresponding compensation and rest times or holidays. Complying with national working hours is the obligation of employers," the ruling stated.

For years, workers have protested and criticized the 996 schedule which has been now been blamed for several deaths. In January, an employee of the Chinese e-commerce startup company Pinduoduo (PDD  ) "suddenly dropped dead" after working 380 hours per month. Less than a month later, a delivery driver working for an Alibaba (BABA  ) affiliate set himself on fire to protest unpaid wages.

The high court's ruling took into account at least 10 cases related to the wrongful denial of overtime pay as well as the denial of compensation for injuries suffered during overtime hours. Many of the cases describe employers creating "special agreements" directly with employees that were meant to let them disregard labor laws.

One case highlighted in the court's decision involved a man who was hired to work a 996 schedule but was later fired after he refused to work the illegal amount of overtime asked for by the employer. In China, overtime is limited to 36 hours per week, generally. The employer was forced to pay the employee a month's worth of salary after arbitration. In its ruling, the high court affirmed the decision made by the arbitration panel.

Another case involved a man who died near the end of a 12-hour shift in December of 2018 after consistently working for more than 300 hours per month with less than three days off. The man had been hired by a media company through an employment service; the court found both responsible for his death.

Pinduoduo has been repeatedly cited as an offender regarding illegal overtime. Like the woman mentioned above, many of the company's workers are required to work more than 300 hours per month, beyond what is legally allowed under Chinese law. However, it's far from the only company allegedly overworking employees; 300 hour months are reportedly common in the Chinese tech industry, especially at startups.

In its ruling, the court recognized that the fierce competition driving companies to maximize profits while minimizing labor costs is likely to blame for the popularity of the 300-hour month schedule but also stated that this practice is deeply harmful to both employees and their families.