Workplace Bullying in South Korea
Workplace Bullying in South Korea
  • Reporter Park Eu-gene
  • 승인 2021.12.14 00:41
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▲An example of workplace bullying / EHSToday
▲An example of workplace bullying / EHSToday


In May, an employee at Naver committed suicide due to workplace abuse, reigniting concerns about workplace bullying and prompting the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) to launch an investigation of the company. In June, employees at Krafton, a game development company, petitioned the MOEL about workplace abuses such as being forced to work overtime and being threatened verbally.
Workplace bullying is a serious and perpetual problem. Workplace Abuse 119 (Jikjang Gapjil 119), a South Korean NGO, conducted a survey about workplace bullying on 1,000 office workers aged 19~55 on 22~29 Dec. 2020. According to the survey, 34.1% replied that they had experienced workplace bullying in the past year, of whom only 2.6% reported the bullying. 69.2% suffered negative consequences due to reporting. The survey shows that vulnerable workers (such as workers at companies of less than five people, low-wage workers earning less than 1.5 million KRW per month, temporary workers, and women) tend to view workplace bullying as a more serious problem and receive less education about the anti-bullying law. Workplace Abuse 119 provides counseling for workplace harassment victims, and maintains online help groups (including one for graduate students) at
Workplace bullying has been legally prohibited under chapter 6-2, article 76 of the Labor Standards Act (commonly called the workplace anti-bullying law) since July 16, 2018. According to article 76-2, workplace bullying refers to “causing physical or mental suffering to other employees or deteriorating the work environment beyond the appropriate scope of work by taking advantage of superiority in rank, relationship, etc. in the workplace.” Article 76-3 orders the employer to investigate the case “without delay” and take necessary measures for the victim and towards the perpetrator. Employers who dismiss the victims or otherwise discriminate against them for reporting the bullying face imprisonment with labor for up to three years or as much as 30 million KRW in fines according to article 109. 
Revisions made on Oct. 14 state that those who took part in the investigation must keep the bullying a secret, otherwise they can face up to five million KRW in fines. Employers who fail to investigate or take appropriate measures can face up to five million KRW in fines. If the perpetrator is the employer or his/her family member, then he/she faces 10 million KRW in fines.
However, the law has been criticized for several loopholes and limitations, including by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). The victim must report to the employer, who may also be the perpetrator of the abuse. The law still does not apply for workplaces of less than five people, nor to platform workers, freelancers, outsourced workers, domestic or family business workers, and workers of special employment types. According to a report by MOEL, of all the workplace bullying cases reported between July 16, 2019 and June 2020 (during which the workplace anti-bullying law was in effect), 42.4% were withdrawn and only 14.4% led to practical measures.
POSTECH has had protocols for dealing with workplace bullying since 2019, but several problems persist. Lee Bo-young, a senior researcher at the POSTECH Human Rights Center, said, “workplace bullying cases are varied, and it is sometimes difficult to decide whether they fit the definition in the protocol. There are not enough precedents set since the workplace bullying law was made, and it is hard to find appropriate institutions that can provide workplace bullying prevention education as part of the disciplinary action.”
On visiting the POSTECH Human Rights Center, victims of workplace bullying will explain the situation to the counselor, listen to the procedures and protocols, then after considering the seriousness, repetitiveness, and duration of the bullying, confirm whether to report it. Once reported, an Emergency Measures Committee is made. An experienced advisory lawyer within the center and the center’s professor or external lawyers can also be brought in to effectively solve such cases.
Researcher Lee said, “It is common for victims to apply for counseling only after suffering for a long time, but then reporting may be difficult as the period from the time of occurrence may exceed that required by our regulations. I would like to recommend that you apply for initial counseling rather than just endure the situation. In addition, it is necessary for individuals of the organization to respect each other by creating a professional and businesslike atmosphere. I think we should always keep in mind that ‘thoughtful’ but excessive interference, worries, and expressions can invade individual boundaries.”