The South Korean National Assembly recently passed legislation requiring employers to tackle workplace bullying and harassment. The amendments to the Labor Standards Act and the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act dealing with Work Rules, penalties and handling bullying or harassment incidents will take effect on 29 May 2019.
South Korean employers will be required to address workplace bullying and harassment in their Work Rules. While sexual harassment has been legislated against in South Korea under the Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act since 2007, workplace bullying and harassment was not directly addressed. Workplace harassment is to be defined as: "an act of an employer or employee that causes physical or mental suffering or worsens the working environment of another employee by taking advantage of his or her status or relationship within the workplace beyond the appropriate scope of work."
In summary, the new bullying and harassment laws across the amendments to both acts:
- directly recognise harassment as verbal abuse by an employer, employee, client or customer;
- require most organisations to address workplace bullying and harassment in their Work Rules;
- introduce various obligations on employers to deal with allegations of workplace bullying and harassment; and
- expressly cover mental distress caused by workplace bullying and harassment as an occupational illness.
In dealing with workplace bullying or harassment claims, employers are required to investigate all allegations, and protect the victim through measures such as paid leave or a change of workplace. If the allegations are proven, employers must take the victim's opinion into account when taking disciplinary action against the harasser.
The amendments introduce hefty penalties for failure to adhere to the rules. In particular, retaliation against any employee for reporting workplace bullying and harassment can attract a fine of up to KRW 30 million (approximately USD 28,500), or imprisonment for up to three years. Failure to adequately reflect the new workplace bullying and harassment laws in an employer's Work Rules can also lead to corrective orders, and ultimately fines if not addressed. Any employer with ten or more employees is required to prepare Work Rules and file them with the Ministry of Employment and Labor. If employers fail to comply, the Ministry of Employment and Labor may issue a corrective order, or a fine of up to KRW 5 million (approximately USD 4,500).
Employers in South Korea should familiarise themselves with the new workplace bullying and harassment laws, and review their Work Rules of employment to update them in line with the new laws before their introduction in May. In particular, the laws require employers to address prevention and implement procedures to resolve incidences of bullying and harassment.