South Korea has enacted numerous labor laws that govern the relationship between employers and employees. Relevant statutes include the Labor Standards Act, the Framework Act on Employment Policy, the Employment Security Act, the Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation, the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act, and the Trade Unions and Labor Relations Adjustment Act. There are no fewer than 30 other statutes that affect the employment relationship. The Ministry of Employment and Labor is the principal agency governing employment policies.
Hours & Pay Regulations
The standard workday is eight hours and the standard workweek is 40 hours, although the law allows for flexible work-hour arrangements. Employers may require employees to exceed the standard number of work hours in a day or week without having to pay overtime, provided that the average number of weekly hours over a two-week period does not exceed 40 and that neither workweek exceeds 48 hours. The maximum number of hours that may be worked in a week is 68 hours per seven-day week, consisting of a maximum of 40 hours for the five standard working days and 16 hours for work over the weekend, plus 12 overtime hours. However, under a new law passed in 2018, the maximum number of weekly work hours were reduced to 52, consisting of 40 regular hours and 12 overtime hours. The law takes effect in stages over a period of three years based on company size.
Effective July 1, 2018, employers with at least 300 employees were required to abide by the revised maximum workweek. Employers with at least 50 employees and fewer than 300 employees must comply with the changes by Jan. 1, 2020. Employers with at least five and fewer than 50 employees must comply by Jan. 1, 2021.
Under a Working Hours Savings System, employees can take leave in lieu of compensation for their hours spent on extended holiday or night work or they can work extended holiday or night work hours to make up for hours they use for leave. Employers and worker representatives can work out specific arrangements based on the situation of a particular company.
Employees under the age of 18 may generally work no more than seven hours per day and 40 hours per week, although, by agreement with the youth and his or her parents, employers may extend this by one hour per day or six hours per week.
Employers cannot require female employees to work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. or on holidays without first getting their consent. Employers must obtain consent from both the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the employee to schedule pregnant women or minors to work during those times. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), arts. 50-55; Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018.
Overtime is defined as any hours worked beyond eight in a day or 40 in a week. When hours are averaged over two or more weeks under a flexible work schedule, overtime is defined as hours worked that put employees over an average of 40 a week. Workers get paid time and a half for overtime work of fewer than eight hours, or 200 percent if eight hours of work are exceeded.
Employers generally cannot require employees to work more than 12 hours of overtime per week, but it is permitted for employees working in some industry sectors if there is a written agreement between an employer and a representative of employees. Within their first year after childbirth, women are prohibited from working more than two hours of overtime per day or six hours per week. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), arts. 53-56 (Korean); Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018 (Korean).
In addition to any wage or overtime, a premium compensation at the rate of 50 percent of the ordinary hourly wage must be paid for work performed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This is termed the night-time premium.
Under a Working Hours Savings System, employees can take leave in lieu of compensation for their hours spent on extended holiday or night work or they can work extended holiday or night work hours to make up for hours they use for leave. Employers and worker representatives can work out specific arrangements based on the situation of a particular company. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), arts. 50-55; Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018.
Employees are entitled to unpaid breaks of 30 minutes for every four work hours and of one hour for every eight work hours.
Employees get one day off per week with pay. The weekly holiday is typically Sunday, but there is no requirement that it be. The one day need not be Sunday. If an employee works on the designated day off, the employer must pay 150 percent of the ordinary wage.
Furthermore, a female employee who is within the first 12 weeks, or who has completed 36 weeks, of her pregnancy may request a reduction of her daily work hours of up to two hours. Her employer must accept this request. The employee’s salary may not be reduced during this reduced work schedule period.
The government mandates only one paid holiday: Labor Day (May 1). Employers may offer others but are not required to do so. If the holiday falls on a weekend it is moved to the next workday. Employees who are required to work on public holidays must receive 150 percent of pay for the hours worked.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, employers with at least 300 employees will be required to provide additional public holidays for their workers. Employers with at least 30 employees but fewer than 300 employees must provide additional holidays by Jan. 1, 2021, and employers with at least five but fewer than 30 employees must do so by Jan. 1, 2022. The government is planning to conduct a survey of public holidays and is to release additional guidance on which public holidays will be a part of this practice at a later date.
Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), art. 56 (Korean); Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, (Korean).
Employees who have worked for their employers for at least one year are entitled to 15 days of paid annual leave, and those who have stayed with a company for at least three years are entitled to an additional day of leave for every two years of service. Employees are entitled to 11 days’ paid leave in the first year of employment.
Total days off may not exceed 25 per year. Paid leave is forfeited if not used within one year of being earned unless the failure to use the leave was caused by the employer, and employers are required to begin reminding employees to use their annual leave on July 1 of each year. Employees can be compensated for expired leave days, but only if the employer fails to give the employee three months’ written notice of the expiration.
Employees who work less than 80 percent of the annual workdays—not counting days off due to occupational injuries or diseases or maternity leave—are entitled to one day of annual leave for every month of full attendance at work. Employees may take advantage of leave days at their own discretion, although an employer may change the leave period if it would seriously interfere with business operations. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), art. 60 (Korean)
The minimum wage, which is applicable to all industries, is decided annually by the labor minister in consultation with the Minimum Wage Council. The hourly minimum wage for 2018 is 7,530 won. In 2019, the rate will rise to 8,350 won.
In the event of a temporary shutdown of a business caused by the employer, employees must be paid 70 percent of their average wages. If a suspension is caused by unavoidable circumstances, an employer can ask the Labor Relations Commission to be allowed to make lower payments. Minimum Wage Commission (Korean).
Female employees who give birth to a child are entitled to 90 days of paid maternity leave, of which 45 days must be used after childbirth, with the final 30 days compensated by the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Female employees who have given birth to multiple children are entitled to additional leave: 120 days total of maternity leave, of which 60 days must be used after childbirth. Of this leave, 75 days are paid maternity leave, with the final 45 days compensated by the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Additionally, an employee who is nursing is allowed two 30-minute nursing periods daily if she has a child younger than one year of age. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), arts. 74-75; Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation, No. 3,989 of 1987 (as amended), art. 19.
The employers are required to guarantee 10 days of paid paternity leave. Additionally, employees will be able to make the request to use paternity leave within 90 days after the delivery date. In addition, the new law allows a male worker to divide the leave period and take it on two separate occasions.
Employees who have a child aged not more than 8 years or in the 2nd or lower grade of an elementary school are eligible for one year of child care leave paid by the Employment Insurance Fund at 40 percent of the normal wage.
Effective, October 1, 2019, an amendment to the act has increased the period of reduced working hours for childcare. Workers may request their employer to decrease their working hours to between 15 and 35 hours per week, except in special cases. The duration of reduced working hours can be for up to 1 year. However, when workers have used none or only part of their one-year parental leave, the remaining portion can be added to the period of reduced working hours. Thus, workers may reduce their work hours for up to two years.
An employer is required to grant up to 90 days per year of family care leave if an employee requests leave to take care of his or her family members.
Effective, October 1, 2019, an amendment to the Act states that, of the 90-day family-care leave entitlement, the new amendment will allow employees to use up to 10 days each year on a single-day basis. Besides, it will also expand the scope of ‘family’ so employees may use family-care leave to look after a grandparent or grandchild. An employer can only refuse an employee’s request to go on family-care leave or request a change in the leave period on a restricted basis.
Employers are required to pay employees for sick leave only in cases of occupational injury or illness, although many employers choose to offer paid sick leave for nonwork ailments upon receipt of proof of illness from a doctor. Employers are required to grant a female worker one day of menstruation leave per month upon her request. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), arts. 73, 79.
South Korean men must serve two years of active military duty and are later required to complete periodic training. Employers may not penalize employees for work missed due to military obligations. A “skills-retention subsidy” is given to companies that help veterans who have high school diplomas build on their vocational skills.
Employees are entitled to three days of leave for fertility treatment. Only the first day must be paid. Employers are prohibited from taking disciplinary action against employees who request or take leave for fertility treatment.
Leaves must be granted in connection with civic duties, including voting. Though not required by South Korean law, special leaves also are generally given in connection with certain family events such as the birth, death, or marriage of members of an employee’s family. Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation, No. 3,989 of 1987 (as amended), arts. 18-19.
Last updated on: October 30th, 2019