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South Korea – What’s new in employment law in 2019

South Korea
Written by
Yulchon LLC, one of Korea’s top law firms.
South Korea has introduced changes to its legislation requiring employers to take action against workplace bullying and harassment. This article sets out employers’ new duties and the penalties that apply for failure to comply with the new rules.

The Korean National Assembly recently passed amendments to the Labor Standards Act (the ‘LSA’) and the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act addressing workplace bullying and harassment. The amendments will become effective on 29 May 2019.

For the first time, the LSA will now:

  • require most organisations to address non-sexual workplace bullying and harassment in their Rules of Employment (workforce rules); and
  • impose various obligations regarding how to respond to allegations of non-sexual workplace bullying and harassment.


There is no specific statutory penalty for failure to abide by the new rules on how to respond to reports of bullying and harassment. However, retaliation against a victim or other employee for reporting workplace bullying or harassment will be punishable by imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to KRW 30 million (approx. USD 28,500). Failure to adequately reflect the new anti-harassment law in one’s workforce rules can also lead to corrective orders and, eventually, fines.

The Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act will also expressly recognise mental distress caused by workplace bullying and harassment as a covered occupational illness. The harassment includes verbal abuse by a client or customer.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor (‘MOEL’) plans to publish a manual on the subject of workplace harassment, which will provide more guidance for employers, sometime in early 2019.

Employers should ensure that they reflect the new law in their Rules of Employment (‘RoE’) and that they have adequate policies and practices in place to prevent harassment and to appropriately handle incidents.

A more detailed description of the new anti-harassment rules can be found below.

Definition of workplace harassment

Workplace harassment will 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.’

Incident handling

Under the new law, once alerted to a workplace harassment claim, the employer is required to:

  • Promptly investigate the allegation of workplace harassment.
  • During the investigation, protect the victim through measures such as change of workplace or paid leave.
  • If workplace harassment is confirmed to have occurred, consider the opinion of the victim when taking disciplinary or other action against the harasser.
  • Take appropriate action against the harasser.
  • Upon the request of the victim, take further appropriate measures such as paid administrative leave for the victim.


Rules of Employment

This new law expressly requires employers to address the prevention of, and proper measures for dealing with the occurrence of, workplace harassment in their RoE. An employer with ten or more employees is required to prepare RoE that cover certain enumerated topics, and file them with the MOEL and if it fails to properly address a required subject in the submitted RoE, MOEL may issue a corrective order. Failure to comply with the order is subject to a fine of up to KRW 5 million (approximately USD 4,500), which is the standard penalty for violating a corrective order.

Comparison with sexual harassment law

The new obligations imposed on employers under this law are similar to those regarding sexual harassment under the Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act (the ‘EEOA’).

The new law, however, has key differences from the 2018 amendment to the EEOA that significantly expanded employer obligations with regard to sexual harassment. For example, the new law on workplace harassment does not impose a positive obligation on employers to take measures when employees are harassed by a customer or client; to conduct workplace harassment prevention training; or to make materials on the prevention of workplace harassment available and known to employees in an accessible place.


Employers are not subject to any criminal or administrative penalty for failure to investigate, to take protective measures, or to take disciplinary action against a harasser, or for disclosing confidential information. However, there is a new criminal penalty for punishing or retaliating against a victim or other employee for reporting workplace harassment. That criminal penalty is either imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to KRW 30 million (approx. USD 28,500). There is also the potential for civil liability for, for example, failure to protect employees from harassment.

Sang Wook Cho
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC
Soojung Lee
Soojung Lee
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC
Christopher Mandel
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC