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 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.
The employer shall pay 1.5 times or more of the ordinary wage for regular overtime work.
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.
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.
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).
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.
An employee who works for less than eight hours on a day-off or holiday is entitled to 150% of his/her ordinary-wage as holiday allowance. An employee is entitled to 200% of the ordinary-wages only when he/she works for more than eight hours on a day-off or holiday as both overtime and holiday work.
An employer may, in accordance with a written agreement with the employee representative, take leave in exchange for paying holiday work.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, employers with at least 300 employees will be 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. 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.
Here is a list of Public Holiday, that will now be enjoyed by both Public and Private Employees (Lunar Calendar holidays subject to change) –
- 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)
- May 5 (Children’s day)
- May 12 (Buddha’s birthday:
- April 8th of the lunar calendar)
- Jun. 6 (Memorial day)
- Aug. 15 (Independence day)
- Sept. 12 to 14 (Chuseok Holidays: August 14th, 15th and 16th on the lunar calendar)
- Oct. 3 (National foundation day)
- Oct. 9 (Korean Alphabet day) Dec. 25 (Christmas day)
- Election days based on the Public Official Election Act
- Other days temporarily designated by the government
Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), art. 56 (Korean); Labor Standards Act Amendments, 2018, (Korean).
An employer shall give 15 days of paid leave to an employee who has worked more than 80 percent for one year.
An employer shall give a paid employee leave for one day for every two years of continuous 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 employee who has continuously worked for less than one year or who has worked less than 80 percent of one year one paid-leave day for each month during which he or she has continuously worked.
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. Labor Standards Act, No. 12,325 of 1997 (as amended), art. 60.
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).
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.
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, No. 12,325 of 1997 (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 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. 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 the normal wage.
Effective, October 1, 2019, the period of reduced working hours for childcare has increased. 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. EEA and Work-life Balance act, art 19.
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 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.
Employers shall give menstrual leave of the 1st of the month if requested by female workers. Art 73 Labour Standard Act.
Last updated on: May 8th, 2020