South Korea sees surge in workplace abuse reports

Verbal abuse accounted for 32.8% of workplace harassment incidents in South Korea, while HR-related improprieties accounted for 13.8%.
By: | April 9, 2024

South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labour’s recent revelation of over 10,000 workplace abuse cases reported last year brings to light a concerning pattern, reflecting a surge in incidents since 2019.

In 2023, the ministry registered 10,028 cases, marking a 12% increase from the previous year’s 8,961.

The trajectory of these reports has been consistently upward since South Korea amended the Labour Standards Act in 2019, incorporating provisions in Articles 76-2 and 76-3 explicitly prohibiting workplace harassment and delineating appropriate redress mechanisms. Documentation commenced in H2’2019, with 2,130 cases recorded during that period. Subsequent years saw a progression: 5,823 cases in 2020, escalating to 7,774 in 2021, with the trend persisting into 2023.

Verbal abuse, constituting 32.8% of cases, emerged as the most prevalent form of harassment in 2023, followed by HR-related improprieties at 13.8%. Authorities addressed 9,672 reported cases, while 356 remain under review. However, in a notable portion of instances (2,884), the alleged abuse fell outside the Act’s purview or did not breach the law.

Legal recourse remains limited, with only 57 cases leading to indictment. Penalties primarily targeted employers retaliating against reporting employees, with potential imprisonment of up to three years or fines of up to 30 million won (US$22,000).

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Despite the higher prevalence indicated by surveys, fear of reprisal has led to underreporting. A Hankook Research survey found that 46% of respondents experienced workplace abuse, yet only 8% sought external resolution.

Furthermore, the survey underscored overwhelming support (96%) for extending legal safeguards against workplace harassment to all workers, irrespective of their employer’s workforce size, reported The Korea Herald.