South Korea has enacted numerous labor laws that govern the relationship between employers and employees. Relevant statutes include the Labor Standards Act, Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation.
Hours & Pay Regulations
The standard workday is 8 hours and the standard workweek is 40 hours excluding hours of recess, although the law allows for flexible work-hour arrangements.
Flexible Work – Hour Arrangement
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.
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. Where there exists an agreement between the parties, work hours may be extended up to 12 hours per week.
In accordance with Article 51 of the Labor Standards Act, the existing flexible working hours system could be operated within two weeks and within three months. However, as of February 19, 2019, it was agreed to expand the flexible working hour period from the current maximum of 3 months to 6 months.
For example, if you use the flexible working hour system in a 6-month period, you will work 52 hours a week from January to March, and work 28 hours a week from April to June. Since this is an average of 40 hours a week from January to June, the flexible working hours are properly observed.
Effective 2018, the maximum number of weekly work hours was reduced to 52 from 68, 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.
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. Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, Sec 50-52.
Overtime is defined as any hours worked beyond 8 hours in a day and 40 in a week. Any work is equivalent to overtime work if it exceeds 8 hours per day regardless of whether the weekly working hours exceed 40 hours or not.
For e.g: Even if the weekly working hours are 35 hours, if you work 10 hours during the day on Monday, you must pay overtime for 2 hours of overtime.
Where there exists an agreement between the parties, work hours may be extended up to 12 hours per week. An employer may extend work hours with the authorization of the Minister of Employment and Labor and the consent of the employees. If the ministry finds that the extension of hours is not appropriate he/she may order the employer to grant recess hours or days-off equivalent to the extended working hours at a later time.
The 12 hours of OT per week is curtailed to only the five industries – Exempt industries are curtailed to just five (5) industries (i.e., land transportation (excluding bus companies), marine transportation, air transportation, other transportation services (e.g., parcel delivery) and healthcare industries).
The employer shall pay 1.5 times or more of the ordinary wage for regular overtime work.
Time off in Lieu
Employers may give vacations in exchange for paying for overtime work in accordance with a written agreement with the worker’s representative. Labor Standards Act (as amended), 2018; Section 56-57.
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 nighttime premium.
Time off in Lieu
Employers may give vacations in exchange for paying for night work in accordance with a written agreement with the worker’s representative. Labor Standards Act (as amended), 2018; Section 56-57.
Employees are entitled to unpaid breaks of 30 minutes for every 4 work hours and of 1 hour for every 8 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.
There is no law regarding daily rest for regular nonexempt employees.
An employee is entitled to at least eleven (11) consecutive hours of rest before each workday by an exempt employer. Exempt industries are curtailed to just five (5) industries (i.e., land transportation (excluding bus companies), marine transportation, air transportation, other transportation services (e.g., parcel delivery), and healthcare industries). Labor Standards Act (as amended), 2018; Section 59.
Employees get one day off per week with pay. The weekly holiday is typically Sunday, but there is no specific requirement that it be. If an employee works on the designated day off, the employer must pay 150 percent of the ordinary wage. Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, Sec 55.
Overtime Work on Rest Day
An employee is entitled to 200% of the ordinary-wages only when he works for more than eight hours on a day-off as both overtime and holiday work.
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. Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, Sec 57.
The government mandates only one paid holiday: Labor Day (May 1). Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, employers with at least 300 employees are required to provide additional public holidays for their workers. The holidays and national holidays, which are currently only given to public officials, are also applied to paid workers in private workplaces so that all workers can enjoy the holidays fairly. Below is the list of holidays –
- Jan. 1 (New year’s day)
- Feb. 4 to 6 (Lunar new years days: – December 31st, January 1st and 2nd on the lunar calendar)
- March 1st. (Independence movement day)
- Children’s day
- Buddha’s birthday
- Memorial day
- Aug. 15 (Independence day)
- Chuseok Holidays
- National foundation day
- Korean Alphabet day
- Dec. 25 (Christmas day)
- Election days based on the Public Official Election Act
- Other days temporarily designated by the government
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.
Holidays which Falls on Non-Work Day
If the holiday falls on a weekend it is moved to the next workday.
Pay for Work on Holiday
An employee who works for less than eight hours on a day-off or holiday is entitled to 150% of his ordinary-wage as holiday allowance.
Payment for Overtime Work on Holiday
An employee is entitled to 200% of the ordinary-wages only when he works for more than eight hours on a day-off or holiday as both overtime and holiday work.
Time off in Lieu
An employer may, in accordance with a written agreement with the employee representative, take leave another day in exchange for paying holiday work. An employee who works for less than eight hours on a day-off or holiday is entitled to 150% of his ordinary-wage as holiday allowance. 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 for one year.
The employer shall give workers who have been working continuously for more than 3 years with the same employer, paid leave, plus one day for every two years of continuing work not including the first one year to the 15 paid-leave days. In this case, the total number of leave days including countable leave is limited to 25 days.
An employer shall grant 1 day’s paid leave per month (i.e. 11 days in 1st year) to a worker who:
- Has worked consecutively for less than one year or;
- Clocked less than 80 percent of attendance for one year, if the worker has offered work without an absence throughout a month.
The employer must give one day of paid leave for one month of work to a worker 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, be terminated by time limitation. This does not apply where the paid leave is not taken for reasons attributable to the employer.
Any of the following periods shall be deemed the period of attendance at work-
- 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 of an annual paid leave.
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 effective January 1, 2020, is 8,590 Won.
The minimum wage may not be up to date & is subject to change. Kindly access this link to get the current rates.
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) before and after childbirth. 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.
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, provided, that when the leave allowances before and after childbirth, etc. have been paid under Article 18 of the Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act, the payment responsibility shall be exempted within the limit of the relevant amount.
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. Where a pregnant employee claims time necessary for a periodical medical examination of pregnant women under Article 10 of the Mother and Child Health Act, an employer shall grant permission for such time. 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. 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 worker 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 child care leave paid by the Employment Insurance Fund at 40 percent of normal wage.
An amendment 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. The new amendment will create a separate entitlement to one year of reduced working hours for childcare. So, eligible employees will be entitled to take one year of leave for childcare, per qualifying child, and a further one year of reduced working hours for childcare, for the same child. Thus, workers may reduce their work hours for up to two years. EEA and Work-life balance act Sec 19.
Where any worker applies for a temporary retirement in order to take care of his/her parents, spouse, sons, and daughters, or parents of his/her spouse (hereinafter referred to as “family”) on grounds of their disease, accident, or senility (hereinafter referred to as “family care leave”), the employer shall grant it. The definition of family expands the scope of ‘family’ so employees may use family-care leave to look after a grandparent or grandchild. Where the employer does not grant family care leave, he/she shall notify the relevant worker of the ground in writing and endeavor to take any of the following measures:
- Adjusting time to start and finish work;
- Restricting overtime work;
- Adjusting working hours, such as reduction or flexible operation, etc. of working hours;
- Other supportive measures appropriate for workplace conditions.
The maximum period of family care leave shall be 90 days a year, and the relevant worker may use it over several occasions. Of the 90-day family-care leave entitlement, the employees can use up to 10 days each year on a single-day basis. 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. The effective date of this measure is based on the size of the organization:
- From January 1, 2020, for employers with 300 or more employees and most governments invested or government-controlled employers;
- January 1, 2021, for employers with 30-299 employees; and
- January 1, 2022, for employers with fewer than 30 employees.
EEA and Work-life Balance act, art 22
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 non-work ailments upon receipt of proof of illness from a doctor.
The employer shall compensate an employee who is in need of medical care with a suspension of 60/100 of the average wage of the worker’s care. If the person to be compensated is paid a portion of the wages during the period of suspension of compensation, the employer shall compensate for the suspension of 60/100 of the average wage minus the amount paid. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 2018 (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.
Employers shall give menstrual leave of the 1st of the month if requested by female workers. Art 73 Labour Standard Act.
Last updated on: July 7th, 2020