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Asia employment law bulletin 2020

South Korea

The most significant development in the labour and employment law realm in 2019 was the introduction of a workplace harassment law. The passage of this law stems from various media reports that brought social awareness to several high-profile cases of employee abuse. It also builds on the general trend, which is fully supported by the current presidential administration, started by the “#MeToo” movement of giving those in the weaker position a voice. With the passage of this law, there has been a spike in the number of harassment claims.

Also, South Korea’s fertility rate fell from in 2018, making it one of the lowest birth rates among OECD countries. In connection with this phenomenon, we have seen a number of amendments to the laws of South Korea in 2019 that are meant to assist employees that become parents, including:

  • Increasing paternity leave from 3 days to 10 days and making all 10 days paid leave.
  • Increasing childcare leave and the period that employees may request to work reduced working hours from a combined total of 1 year to 2 years—employees may now request 1 full year of childcare leave and 1 full year of reduced working hours.

Finally, the work-hour reduction law that will make 52 hours per week the statutory maximum amount of work hours for rank-and-file employees is already effective for companies with 300 or more employees. The law became effective for companies with 50 to 299 employees on 1 January 2020.  However, given the strong voices of employers who have cited the difficulty in complying with this law, the government announced at the end of 2019 that it will impose a one-year grace period regarding the enforcement of this law. The grace period does not defer the effective date of the law but will encourage compliance with the amendment by suspending labour audits and providing opportunities for corrective measures, and thus the Ministry of Employment and Labour (MOEL) will refrain from enforcing the law proactively. The MOEL will handle violations of the working hour limit during the grace period by way of corrective measures or administrative supervision, rather than criminal sanctions.  

Matthew Jones, Kim & Chang