By Don Southerton, Korea Expert Witness Editor and Chief Blogger
For firms and individuals doing business in Korea ( or overseas divisions wishing to better understand the Korean-side of operations) it is important to know about the laws that govern sexual harassment in the Korean workplace. Rules and laws vary globally. I follow Korea’s carefully, most often to share with non-Korean management on expectations for their Korean teams in the host country. In some cases, Koreans working overseas feel they can bend the rules while working abroad–rules they would need to follow in Korea.
In Korea, harassment is governed under the Gender Equality Employment Act (GEEA). In terms of what constitutes sexual harassment, GEEA cites:
* Unwelcome sexual advances, including repeated, unwelcome or intimidating social invitations;
* Suggestions that sexual cooperation or the toleration of sexual advances may further a person’s career;
* Unwelcome verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature including sexually derogatory or stereotyped remarks; sexual propositioning; leering and lewd gestures; touching, grabbing or deliberately brushing up against another person; or persistent questioning about a person’s sex life.
* Conduct of sexual nature that creates a hostile or intimidating work environment; this includes sexual or obscene jokes, or displaying sexist or other sexually offensive pictures, calendars or posters around the workplace.
It’s no surprise that many incidents of sexual harassment take place after work, during employee dinners, or during the late night drinking sessions. Rooted in traditional culture, the goal of such events is to build team spirit and morale, but large amounts of alcohol can lead to sexual harassment
Paul Cho of the Korean law firm Kim and Chang points out in his article on sexual harassment ” Unwanted Attention,” GEEA guidelines for employers. They include:
In terms of training, employers shall provide their employees (including temps) with education for preventing sexual harassment in the form of training, morning meetings, conferences, etc., at least once a year with due consideration for the Company’s circumstances.
Violation of this requirement can result in the company being assessed an administrative fine not exceeding three million won ( $3-4000 US). The contents of this education training should include a review of the relevant provisions of the GEEA, corporate guidelines and policies regarding the intolerance of any sexual harassment in the workplace, victim counseling and grievance system and other preventive measures to prohibit sexual harassment.
Another importance of this training is that, once a sexual harassment claim is lodged with the labor authorities, one of the first things they will check is whether the employer has complied with its annual training requirement. If the answer is no, it will not be hard for the labor authorities to conclude that the employer did not take the proper actions required in terms of a sexual harassment claim as it did not even train its employees on how to, for example, prevent sexual harassment.
The GEEA also requires the employer to include disciplinary policies and procedures as to harassers in the employer’s rules and regulations and to impose an appropriate sanction, if any, against the harasser such as a transfer to another department, warning, suspension, unpaid leave, dismissal, etc., taking into account the severity and duration of the misconduct, violation of which can result in the employer being assessed an administrative fine not exceeding five million won. In addition, an employer that commits sexual harassment shall be subject to an administrative fine not exceeding 10 million won ($10-12,000 US) by the labor authorities
It also bears mentioning that, any retaliatory action against a victim of sexual harassment making a claim can result in the employer’s registered representative being subject to imprisonment for not more than three years or a criminal fine not exceeding 20 million wo
Technically speaking, a company with at least 30 employees under ordinary circumstances shall be obligated to establish a grievance council with an equal number of representative members from management and the employees, provided that the employee-side of such council should, to the extent possible, include female employees based on the ratio of female employees in the company. In the alternative (as there is no sanction under the GEEA for failure to set up a grievance council), a company’s Labor Management Council (which is required for companies with at least 30 employees under ordinary circumstances) or the company’s Human Resources Department may fill this role of taking charge of counseling and the handling of grievances. An outside specialist is also allowed to take charge thereof.
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