Employees going home after after 5 PM in Seoul. (Image via Nikkei Asian Review)
Tackling Workplace Bullying, South Korea Will Now Criminalize Toxic EmployersWork culture in South Korea is known for its rigid hierarchy, demand for obedience and loyalty—quite similar like in the neighboring country Japan. However, the traditional scenario often leads to a toxic work environment and abuse of power by those in the higher positions and employees are expected to turn a blind eye to abusive behavior.
A government report shows that two-thirds of Korean workers had experienced harassment at work, while 80% had witnessed it. Too common to happen, even locals coined a word for it, ‘gabjil’.
With a weak social safety net and stagnant employment, most cases often put victims in a difficult situation to speak up.
In a recent case, attention is drawn to a 37-year old Christine Jung, a worker who has been harassed by the CEO’s father for months and took a step to finally confronted her aggressor. Instead of getting protection, she was fired and sued for defamation by her employer.
But now, things are about to change in South Korea as the government has revised the labor law. Under the new regulation, employers who unfairly dismiss employees harassed at work will be criminalized with three years imprisonment or a fine of up to US$25,000.
According to an activist at Workplace Gabjil 119, Park Jeom-gyu, the move still needs so many improvements since it only criminalizes employers who penalize victims for speaking out but not the direct bullies. However, this is a meaningful step toward a change and can encourage more workers to report harassment at work.
In Jung’s case, the aggressor often body-shaming her while another time followed her to women’s restroom and abruptly groped her stomach at his office. She had tried to report the issue to the management, but only to get accused of being man-hater and liar.
She also reached out to the labor ministry but did not get proper assistance, instead, she was told that her experience did not count as bullying since her aggressor is not her supervisor even though he was coming to the office every day.
The cases of the toxic workplace in South Korea are not found only at corporate jobs but also in sectors like health care, sport, academia, and the entertainment industry.