Below is a summary of certain major changes to Korean labor laws that became effective in the second half of 2019.
1. Labor Standards Act addressing workplace harassment
The amended Labor Standards Act (as amended, the “LSA”) that took effect in July 2019 introduced new provisions regulating workplace harassment in any workplace with five or more employees. This amendment to the LSA is the first regulation in Korea that expressly defines and sets forth fundamental principles to prohibit and regulate workplace harassment. In anticipation of this amendment and to provide additional guidance, in February 2019 the Ministry of Employment and Labor released a manual further describing the identification and prohibition of workplace harassment, as well as available countermeasures.
The government will likely continue to introduce substantial regulatory measures regarding workplace harassment, so it is recommended that employers in Korea take all or some of the following actions:
- Clarify the meaning of “workplace harassment” by taking into account the work environment, culture and other relevant factors specific to the workplace, and reflect such in the company’s policies;
- Conduct an internal audit to check the current compliance level in light of existing and any future regulations;
- Establish new systems to prevent and provide countermeasures to workplace harassment; and
- Conduct a comprehensive assessment of existing HR and management systems to determine how they can be utilized to prevent workplace harassment issues.
2. Amendment to the Fair Hiring Procedure Act
An amendment to the Fair Hiring Procedure Act (“FHPA”) took effect in July 2019. This amendment, also referred to as the “Blind Hiring Act,” attempts to ensure fair employment opportunities to job applicants by establishing grounds to regulate hiring irregularities at private companies and to encourage recruitment based on job skills rather than appearance or gender. Key components of the amendment include the following:
- Prohibition of the use of coercion and providing and/or receiving money and other valuables in the recruitment and employment process (administrative fines not exceeding KRW 30 million may be imposed in the case of violations); and
- Prohibition of requesting personal information unrelated to job performance (administrative fines not exceeding KRW 5 million may be imposed in the case of violations).
The FHPA applies to the recruitment process of businesses with 30 or more full-time employees; however, it does not apply to the hiring of public officials by central or local governments. It would be prudent for companies that are subject to these rules to review their regulations relating to recruitment and prepare training and guidelines for officers or employees who are involved in the recruitment process.
3. Further promotion of work-family balance
An amendment to the Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act (the “Equal Opportunity Act”) took effect in October 2019. The amendment was part of the government’s continuing efforts to promote a healthy work-family balance. Key changes to the Equal Opportunity Act include the following:
- Expanding paternity leave from five days (of which the first three days are paid leave) to ten days (all paid leave);
- Allowing eligible employees to take up to one year of childcare leave and an additional year of reduced working hours during the period when the employee has children under the age of eight or in the second grade of elementary school or lower (for total leave and reduced working periods of up to two years). The range of working hours that may be reduced has also been changed from two to five hours per day (schedules of 15-30 hours per week) to one to five hours a day (schedules of 15-35 hours per week) and the right to childcare leave is now available to an employee whose spouse is also on childcare leave for the same child; and
- Establishing new provisions on requests for family care leave and reduced working hours (which will be implemented in phases depending on the size of a workplace starting on January 1, 2020).
Companies should carefully review and update their relevant policies and ensure compliance with the amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act.