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Employment Law in South Korea

Employment law in the Republic of Korea (generally known as South Korea) is not consolidated into a single Code. The most important item of employment legislation is the Labour Standards Act, which governs matters such as employment contracts, termination of employment, wages, working time, rest, annual leave, maternity leave/protection and discrimination. The Act generally applies only to businesses or workplaces with at least five employees but some of its provisions have been extended to smaller businesses or workplaces by decree — this includes basic rules on employment contracts, wages, rest breaks, maternity leave/protection, discrimination and notice periods. The Act does not apply to businesses or workplaces that employ only relatives who live with the employer or to domestic workers (the latter are covered by separate employment legislation, not dealt with here).

Other significant laws include the:

  • Act on the Protection, etc. of Fixed-term and Part-time Employees (much of this Act applies only to businesses or workplaces with at least five employees)

  • Act on the Protection, etc. of Temporary Agency Workers

  • Minimum Wage Act

  • Fair Hiring Procedure Act

  • Act on the Guarantee of Employees’ Retirement Benefits

  • National Human Rights Commission Act

  • Act on Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance

  • Act on the Prohibition of Age Discrimination in Employment and Promotion of Employment of Older People

  • Act on the Prohibition of Discrimination against People with Disabilities

  • Act on the Employment Promotion and Vocational Rehabilitation of People with Disabilities

  • Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act

  • Act on the Promotion of Employees’ Participation and Cooperation

  • Framework Act on Labour Welfare

  • Employment Security Act

  • Framework Act on Employment Policy

  • Occupational Safety and Health Act

  • Serious Accidents Punishment Act

  • Employment Insurance Act

  • Act on the Development of Workers’ Vocational Skills

  • Act on Support for Apprenticeship in Workplaces

  • Personal Information Protection Act.

In many cases, government enforcement decrees provide more detailed rules on the application of the various Acts (most of which have been amended since their initial adoption). Case law, and especially that of the Supreme Court, interprets the legislation. In some cases, breaches of employment legislation are criminal offences punishable on conviction with imprisonment or a fine. This is particularly true in areas such as non-discrimination, dismissal and industrial action.

Collective agreements (mainly signed at single-employer level) govern the pay and conditions of around a sixth of employees. Employers with 10 or more employees must (in consultation with trade unions or other employee representatives) draw up “employment rules” covering matters such as wages, working time, health and safety, maternity, work-life balance, workplace harassment and termination benefits. Any terms and conditions in an employment contract that do not meet the standards established by the employer’s employment rules are null and void and the employment rules apply instead, while employment contracts and employment rules must not conflict with employment legislation or any applicable collective agreement.

This topic refers to employment law in the private sector only.

Employment Law in South Korea: Quick Facts
  • Many statutory rules on matters such as working time, annual leave and dismissal do not apply to businesses or workplaces with fewer than five employees. Summary

  • Statutory rules govern certain aspects of recruitment and selection procedures in businesses and workplaces with 30 or more employees. Recruitment and Selection

  • An employment contract is defined as a contract that is entered into so that an employee provides work for which the employer pays corresponding wages. Employment Contracts

  • The maximum duration of a fixed-term employment contract is generally two years, including any renewals, but this limit does not apply in certain cases, such as employing individuals aged at least 55 or replacing temporarily absent employees. Employment Contracts

  • Temporary agency workers may as a general rule be used only to perform certain jobs specified by law but may also be used to fill other roles when a business has a temporary or intermittent need for more labour, or to temporarily replace employees who are absent. Employment Contracts

  • Wages must be paid at least once a month, accompanied by a payslip, and deductions from wages are permitted only if required or allowed by law or by a collective agreement. Pay and Benefits

  • A statutory national minimum wage applies to all employees. Pay and Benefits

  • In general, employees’ normal working time must not exceed eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, but various flexibility arrangements are available. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • In general, employees must consent to working overtime, are limited to 12 hours’ overtime per week and are entitled to a wage supplement of at least 50% (or time off in lieu in certain circumstances). Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Employees are generally entitled to a rest break during the working day and a weekly rest day. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Statutory rules on working time and rest breaks/days do not apply to certain categories of employee, notably those in managerial and supervisory jobs. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Employees who have at least one year’s service with their employer are generally entitled to 15 days of paid annual leave, with the entitlement rising with service to a maximum of 25 days. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Working mothers are entitled to 90 days’ maternity leave and fathers to 10 days’ paternity leave, while parents are entitled to take 12 months of childcare leave and employees with certain caring responsibilities may take family care leave. Parenthood and Work-life Balance

  • Employees have no statutory entitlement to sick leave or to sick pay from their employer, and there is no public sickness benefit. Parenthood and Work-life Balance

  • Discrimination in employment is prohibited on grounds including sex, religion, disability, age, social status, region or state of origin, ethnic origin, physical condition, marital status, pregnancy or childbirth, family, race, skin colour, ideology or political opinion, criminal record (where a conviction is spent), sexual orientation, education and medical history. Equality and Discrimination

  • Sexual harassment and workplace harassment are prohibited, and employers must take various measures to combat them. Equality and Discrimination

  • It is an unlawful unfair labour practice for an employer to dismiss an employee or treat them unfavourably because they are a trade union member or carry out lawful trade union activities. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • It is an unlawful unfair labour practice for an employer to refuse to engage in collective bargaining with a trade union with members among its employees, or delay such bargaining, without a justifiable reason. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • A labour-management council must be set up at all businesses or workplaces that have at least 30 employees.Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • Employers have numerous detailed health and safety obligations, while employees have various duties and rights in this area. Occupational Health and Safety

  • In businesses or workplaces with at least five employees, the employer must not dismiss an employee without “justifiable cause”, which means certain reasons attributable to the employee (eg misconduct or poor performance) or to the business (eg redundancy). Termination of Employment

  • Employers must give employees with at least three months’ service 30 days’ notice of dismissal, or pay them in lieu of all or part of this notice period. Termination of Employment

  • Employers must put in place one or more “retirement benefit” schemes that pay benefits to employees when their employment ends: the default arrangement is payment of a lump-sum allowance worth at least 30 days’ wages per year of service. Termination of Employment

  • Employers with 10 or more employees must (in consultation with trade unions or other employee representatives) draw up “employment rules”, covering matters such as wages, working time, health and safety.