Reports of workplace abuse in South Korea double over past 5 years

SEOUL – More than 10,000 cases of workplace abuse were reported to the authorities in 2023, South Korea’s labour ministry said on April 7, marking a steep rise every year since the government started compiling such reports in 2019.

The Ministry of Employment and Labour said it received 10,028 reports of workplace abuse in 2023, up 12 per cent from 8,961 the year before.

South Korea in 2019 revised the Labour Standards Act to stipulate in Articles 76-2 and 76-3 the prohibition against workplace harassment and the appropriate measures to be taken in such cases.

The ministry started keeping track of reports of workplace abuse in the second half of 2019, during which 2,130 cases were reported.

In the following years, the figure reached 5,823 in 2020 and 7,774 in 2021, and is continuing to rise.

The most common form of workplace harassment reported in 2023 was verbal abuse at 32.8 per cent, followed by inappropriate measures related to human resources at 13.8 per cent.

Of the 10,028 reported cases in 2024, officials took action on 9,672 cases, while 356 cases are still being processed.

In 2,884 cases, those accused of workplace abuse were found to not have violated the law or the case itself did not occur in a workplace subject to the Labour Standard Act. The Act can be applied to workplaces that regularly employ at least five people.

In 2,197 cases, the accuser had dropped the charges.

Only 57 cases led to an indictment as the law specifies criminal punishment only for the act of the employer firing or unfavourably treating the employee who reported an incident of workplace abuse, which can be punished by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won (S$30,000).

The maximum punishment for other violations is a 10 million won administrative fine, which does not remain on the offender’s criminal record.

Polls indicate the real number of workplace abuse incidents is much higher than what the government report suggests, but many employees facing such abuse do not report it for fear of retribution.

In February, local pollster Hankook Research announced the results of its survey of 1,000 employees across the country, which showed that 46 per cent of respondents have experienced some level of abuse at work.

About 33 per cent of them said they chose to do nothing, while 31 per cent said they quit their job and 25 per cent said they sought help from those around them. Only 8 per cent reported the case to organisations outside the company.

The same survey showed 96 per cent of respondents thought the legal clause banning workplace harassment should be applied to all workers, including those working for a company with fewer than five employees. THE KOREA HERALD/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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