New provisions regulating workplace harassment and bullying set out in South Korea’s amended Labour Standards Act (the “LSA“) were recently implemented on 16 July 2019. Employers should ensure that their internal policies are in line with these changes.
Amendments to the LSA
The South Korean National Assembly recently passed legislation amending the LSA. These changes came into effect on 16 July 2019.
The LSA provides fundamental principles governing workplace harassment and expressly defines workplace harassment 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.”
Under these changes, employers must now take measures to:
- prohibit workplace harassment;
- specify in the Rules of Employment the measures to be taken in the event of an occurrence of workplace harassment;
- conduct prompt investigations into harassment allegations;
- take appropriate measures to protect victims of harassment (alleged or actual), such as permitting the victim to go on paid leave or changing the place of work of the victim/perpetrator;
- take necessary action against the perpetrator (where the outcome of the investigation confirms that harassment had taken place). In doing so, the employer should consult the victim on the action to be taken against the harasser; and
- ensure that no retaliatory action is taken against any employee who has reported harassment or who has been a victim of harassment.
Ministry Of Employment And Labour (“MOEL”) Manual
The MOEL has also published a manual to help employers better understand the ways in which workplace harassment or bullying may manifest. The manual provides useful guidance on matters such as prevention education, victim protection measures, and the creation of internal prevention measures to tackle workplace harassment and bullying.
Retaliation against any employee who reports workplace harassment or who is a victim of such harassment is punishable by a fine of up to KRW 30 million, or imprisonment of up to 3 years. Further legislative revisions have been tabled, with lawmakers proposing to impose criminal sanctions and fines of up to KRW 20 million or imprisonment of up to 2 years.
Employers should have in place internal anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies which clearly set out the types of behaviour that will be considered harassment and/or bullying, and implement a process to handle allegations of harassment. Periodic training and internal audits should also be conducted to ensure that employees understand and are compliant with workplace harassment provisions.