The government announced a plan to criminalize workplace harassment on Wednesday, saying that some 70 percent of all Korean employees have been bullied by their work superiors and colleagues at least once in their lives.
Citing a report by the National Human Rights Commission, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said that a vast majority of working Koreans suffer from workplace harassment, and about 60 percent of the victims have never taken any action, fearing possible disadvantages. Lee also added that 12 percent of all Korean workers are thought to be facing harassment at work every day.
An initial proposal for a revision to the Labor Standards Act will be completed in October, according to the Ministry of Labor.
If the legislation passes, those who harass others at work will be subject to up to 3 years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won ($26,509).
South Korean workers leave work in Yeouido, Seoul, on July 3. (Yonhap)
Companies that do not comply with the workplace harassment prevention learning program, which will become mandatory for all employers and employees, will be fined up to 5 million won ($4,420). Workplace harassment will also be legally recognized as an industrial accident; victims will be able to sue for compensation for occupational diseases, should they develop health effects after being bullied at work.
The government estimates that, in addition to the emotional cost for the victims and companies involved, harassment in the workplace comes at a financial cost of around 4.7 trillion won a year. The Ministry of Labor stressed that workplace harassment is a cause of suicide and depression among many Koreans.
According to the NHRC report, the highest proportion of the victims, 43.9 percent, said their work and input were deliberately belittled and discredited by their superiors. At the same time, 37.6 percent said they were given excessive demands that were impossible to meet, or were given work outside their work hours.
Some said they were given demeaning demands far below their capability, while some female employees were forced to perform sexually suggestive dances for their male superiors.
Among the victims, 87.1 percent said they had experienced both physical and emotional health problems because of being bullied, including depression and severe anxiety.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org