The Labour law in South Korea is regulated mainly by the Labor Standards Act amended as of 2018. The Act governs the terms and conditions of employment such as working hours, holidays, rest periods, wages, overtime, leave and termination of employment, etc. The Labor relationships are also governed by Support for Work-Family Reconciliation Act No. 3989 of 1984.
Hours & Pay Regulations
The standard workday is 8 hours and the standard workweek is 40 hours excluding hours of break. For the purpose of calculating working hours, the waiting time,. during which an employee is under the direction and supervision of the employer for work, shall be deemed as working hours.
The maximum number of weekly hours is 52, consisting of 40 regular hours and 12 overtime hours. This workweek is currently applicable to all employers with at least 50 employees. Effective July 1, 2021, this will also be made applicable to employers with 5 – 49 employees as well. Employers with fewer than 5 employees will still be exempt from this provision.
Employers who employ fewer than 30 employees are allowed to extend the working hours beyond the 52 hours per week limit but not exceed additional 8 hours per week until December 2022. Post-December 2022, all employees are required to work only 52 hours a week.
Flexible Work – Hour Arrangement – Employers may require employees to exceed the standard number of work hours without having to pay overtime, under the following circumstances:
- Employers can average the working time between 2 weeks wherein the employee can be asked to work in excess of 40 hours in one specific week and/or in excess of 8 hours on a specific day. Provided, the working hours in any of the 2 weeks cannot exceed 48 hours.
- If there is a written agreement with an employee representative, the working hours can be averaged for a period of not more than 3 months, wherein the working time, in general, do not exceed 40 hours in any week, But an employee can be asked to work in excess of 40 hours in any specific week and/or in excess of 8 hours on any specific day. Provided, in this case, the working hours cannot exceed 52 hours in that specific week or 12 hours on that specific day.
- If there is a written agreement with an employee representative, the working hours can be averaged for a period of more than 3 months and less than 6 months, wherein the working time, in general, do not exceed 40 hours in any week, But an employee can be asked to work in excess of 40 hours in any specific week and/or in excess of 8 hours on any specific day. Provided, in this case, the working hours cannot exceed 52 hours in that specific week or 12 hours on that specific day. In this case, the employee shall be given a break of at least 11 hours consecutively after the end of the working day and before the start of the next working day. And the employer shall notify the employee of the working hours for each working day in that week at least two weeks before the start of the working day in each week.
Selective working hours system – In the case of a selective working hours system, employees can choose their working hours over a certain period (reference period) not exceeding 1 month. The total working hours shall not exceed the 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week limit during such reference period. This system of working allows the employee to decide the start and end times of the work along with the number of hours to work in a day.
Special Case for calculation of working hours – In cases where it is difficult to calculate the working hours of an employee because such an employee works outside the workplace. In such a case, it is presumed that the employee has worked for the prescribed (contractual) working hours, which is required to perform the work.
Overtime is defined as any hours worked beyond 8 hours in a day and 40 hours in a week. An employee can perform maximum overtime work of up to 12 hours per week.
For eg: Even if the total weekly working hours are 35, and if an employee works 10 hours on a single day they are owed overtime pay for 2 hours of overtime.
Where there exists an agreement between the parties, work hours may be extended beyond 12 hours per week. An employer may extend work hours with the authorization of the government authority and the consent of the employees. If the government authority finds that the extension of hours is not appropriate the employer may be ordered to grant recess hours or days off to the employee(s) equivalent to the extended working hours at a later time.
Employees working in land transportation (excluding bus companies), marine transportation, air transportation, or other transportation services (e.g., parcel delivery) and healthcare industries) are allowed to work beyond the 12 hours of overtime in a week.
An employer shall not have any women for whom 1 year has not passed after childbirth, work overtime in excess of 2 hours per day, 6 hours per week, and 150 hours per year, even if the same has been provided by a collective agreement.
The employer shall pay 1.5 times the ordinary wage for overtime work.
Time off in Lieu
Employers may give time off in lieu in exchange for paying for overtime work in accordance with a written agreement with the employee’s representative. Labor Standards Act (as amended), 2018; Section 56-57 and 71.
The time period between 10 pm and 6 am is considered night work.
Pay – An employee who works during the nighttime is entitled to an additional payment equal to 50% in addition to the regular wages.
Time off in Lieu
An employer may grant time off in lieu of working a night shift instead of payment of night wages, in case of a written agreement between the employer and labor representatives. Labor Standards Act (as amended), 2018; Section 56-57.
The employer shall give an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes in the case of working hours of 4 hours and at least 1 hour in the case of working hours of 8 hours. Labor Standards Act (as amended), 2018; Section 54.
There is no provision in the law regarding daily rest for employees. However certain exempt industry employees are provided rest breaks according to the specific regulations that govern these industries as mentioned below.
In the case of exempted industries, an employee is entitled to at least 11 consecutive hours of rest after the end of the working day and before the start of the next working day. Exempt industries are curtailed to five (i.e., land transportation (excluding bus companies), marine transportation, air transportation, other transportation services (e.g., parcel delivery), and healthcare industries).
This rest period is also applicable in the case of employees working according to the flexible working arrangement and selective working arrangement. Currently, this is applicable for employers with 50 or more employees. Effective July 1, 2021, this shall also become applicable for employers employing 5 or more but less than 50 employees. Labor Standards Act (as amended), 2018; Section 51(2), 59.
An employee is entitled to at least 1 rest day per week on average. However, if the employee has made a written agreement with the labor representatives, such holidays can be substituted with particular working days.
This is currently applicable to employers employing at least 30 or more employees. Effective January 1, 2022, this shall also be applicable to employers employing between 5 and less than 30 employees as well.
An employee who works on a holiday is entitled to 150% of ordinary wages. An employer may grant time off in lieu of working on a rest day instead of payment of wages, in case of a written agreement between the employer and labor representatives. Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, Sec 55.
Overtime Work on Rest Day
An employee who works for more than 8 hours on a day off is entitled to 200% of the ordinary wages. Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, Sec 57.
The government mandates only one paid holiday: Labor Day (May 1). Currently, in addition to Labor Day, the following holidays are applicable to all public employees as well as employees of private employers who have between 30 and 299 employees: Below is the list of 15 paid holidays –
- Jan. 1 (New year’s day)
- Lunar New Years Day – The day preceding Seollal, Seollal, and the day following Seollal (the last day of December, and the first and second days of January according to the lunar calendar).
- March 1st. (Independence movement day)
- Children’s day
- Buddha’s birthday
- Memorial day
- Aug. 15 (Independence day)
- Chuseok Holidays – The day preceding Chuseok, and the day following Chuseok (14th, 15th, and 16th days of August are according to the lunar calendar – A total of 3 days per year.
- Dec. 25 (Christmas day)
- Election days based on the Public Official Election Act
- Other days temporarily designated by the government.
Effective January 1, 2022, employers with at least 5 but fewer than 29 employees must also provide the same number of holidays. Employers with fewer than 5 employees have been exempted.
In case, when the days of Seollal or Chuseok overlaps with another statutory holiday, the first non-statutory holiday following the statutory holiday shall be a statutory holiday, and where Children’s Day overlaps with a Saturday or another statutory holiday, the first non-statutory holiday following the statutory holiday shall be a statutory holiday.
Pay for Work on Holiday
An employee who works for less than 8 hours on a holiday is entitled to 150% of the ordinary wage.
Payment for Overtime Work on Holiday
An employee is entitled to 200% of the ordinary wages only when he works for more than 8 hours on a holiday.
Time off in Lieu
An employer may grant time off in lieu of working on a public holiday instead of payment of wages, in case of a written agreement between the employer and labor representatives. Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, Sec 55 & 56, Presidential Decree 30509, March 3, 2020, amended other laws, Regulations on public holidays in government offices (abbreviated: Public holidays regulations)
An employer shall give 15 days of paid leave to an employee who has worked more than 80 percent of the working days for one year. The employer shall give employees who have been working continuously for more than 3 years – the standard paid leave (15 days) plus one additional day for every two years of continuing work with the same employer not including the first year to the 15 paid-leave days.
In this case, the total number of leave days including countable leave is limited to 25 days.
The employer must give one day of paid leave for one month of work to an employee who has continuously worked for less than one year or who has worked less than 80 percent for one year. The paid leave shall if it is not taken for one year, shall be considered as expired. This does not apply where the paid leave is not taken for reasons attributable to the employer.
The following periods shall be deemed the period of attendance at work for the purpose of annual leave –
- The period during which an employee takes time off due to any injury or sickness arising out of duty;
- The period during which a woman in pregnancy takes time off due to the leave;
- The period during which an employee takes time off on child-care leave.
An employer may, by a written agreement with the labor representative, get employees to take a paid leave on a particular working day, in substitution for an annual paid leave.
Pay – An employee is entitled to ordinary wages or average wages as may be prescribed in employment rules (regulations) during the leave period. The payment for the annual leave shall be made on the day before or immediately after the period of paid leave is granted.
An employee is granted annual leave on the employee’s request except in circumstances where his/her absence from work might cause a serious impediment to the operation of the business. An employer shall ensure to ask the employee 6 months prior to the expiry of the annual leave to decide about the timing of the vacation period. In case, an employee could not provide the timing of vacation, in such a scenario, the employer shall decide the same and notify the employee about the vacation period, which shall be at least 2 months prior to the expiry of the annual leave. Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, Sec 60 – 62.
Effective January 1, 2021, the minimum wage in South Korea is KRW 8,720.
An employer shall grant a pregnant woman a total of 90-day maternity leave (120-day maternity leave if she is pregnant with at least two children at a time). In such cases, at least 45 days (60 days, if she is pregnant with two or more children at a time) of the leave period after childbirth shall be allowed.
If an employee requests maternity leave for any reason such as miscarriage or stillbirth, the employer is required to allow the employee to split up leave and take a part of it any time before the childbirth. In such cases, the leave period after childbirth shall be 45 consecutive days or 60 days in cases of a pregnancy with more than one child or longer.
The employer shall allow a female employee within 12 weeks or after 36 weeks of pregnancy to apply for a reduction in working hours by 2 hours per day. A pregnant woman working less than 8 hours a day can reduce her working hours to 6 hours. However, if an employee works 6 hours or less a day, the employer has no obligation to allow her to reduce her working hours to below 6 hours. There shall be no reduction in pay for such a work hour reduction.
The first 60 days (75 days, if she is pregnant with at least two children at a time) in the period of leave shall be paid. The rest of the days are paid by the government authority. An employee who requests time necessary for periodical medical examinations shall be granted such paid time off from work.
An employee who is nursing is allowed two 30-minute or more nursing periods daily if she has a child younger than one year of age. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 2018 (as amended), arts. 74-75 (Korean); Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation, No. 3,989 of 1987 (as amended), art. 18 – 19
The employers are required to guarantee 10 days of paid paternity leave. Additionally, employees can make the request to use paternity leave within 90 days after the delivery date. In addition, the new law allows a male employee to divide the leave period and take it on two separate occasions. Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation, No. 3,989 of 1987 (as amended), arts. 18-19.
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 unpaid child care leave.
Employees shall be entitled up to 1 year for childcare per child and also a further 1 year of reduced working hours for childcare for the same child. In case, there is any unused period of childcare leave, an employee can use such leave instead as a period of reduced hours. The working hours can be reduced for up to two years in case employees decide not to take childcare leave. The reduced working hours shall however be between 15 hours and 35 hours per week.
An employee may reduce working hours for a period of childcare over several occasions. Each period of use shall be at least 3 months. The government compensates the employee through the Employment Insurance Funds at up to 80% of the normal wage. The monthly payment amount should be between KRW700,000 and KRW1,700,000. EEA and Work-life balance act Sec 19.
An employee who needs to provide support and care to family members including grandparents, parents, spouse, children, grandchildren and a spouse’s parent in case of their sickness, injury, or old age shall be entitled to unpaid leave for a period of 90 days per year. An employee can use such leave in more than one period but one period shall consist of at least 30 days.
An employee who requests urgent leave to his/her employer in order to provide care for family members including grandparents, grandchildren, etc because of their sickness, injury, or age shall be granted leave for a period of 10 days per year called short term family care leave. This leave shall be included in the period of family care leave.
Employees can ask to reduce their working hours to care for families or themselves, prepare for retirement when they are aged 55 or older, or pursue an academic career for up to one year. Reduced working hours should be between 15 hours and 30 hours per week.
Currently, employees working in workplaces with at least 30 and 300 or more employees are entitled to reduce working hours for the above-mentioned reasons. Effective January 1, 2022, this will be made applicable to all employers with fewer than 30 employees. EEA and Work-life balance act Sec 22,
There is no provision on sick leave in Labor legislation. Accordingly, where an employee wants to use sick leave on the grounds of personal injury or disease, the employee may follow the regulation, if it is prescribed by a collective agreement, the rules of employment, and a labor contract, etc. Meanwhile, if sick leave is not provided by the company’s regulation, an employer is not obliged to grant it. In cases where sick leave regulation is not provided in a workplace, it might not be granted, and an employee may use annual paid leave. Employees who fall sick due to occupational injury or illness are compensated by the employer.
Pay – An employer shall compensate an employee who is undergoing medical treatment in an amount equal to 60% of the employee’s average wage during medical treatment. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 2018 (as amended), arts. 73, 79.
Employees are entitled to 3 days of leave for fertility treatment. Only the first day must be paid. EEA and Work-life balance act (amended as of 2019) 18(3).
Employers shall give menstrual leave on the 1st of the month if requested by female employees. Art 73 Labour Standard Act, 2012 (amended as of 2019),
Last updated on: July 1st, 2021