A new law aimed at preventing harassment in the workplace took effect in South Korea on Tuesday, bringing the widespread but overlooked issue of bullying at work into the legal domain.
A revised law on labor standards, commonly called the workplace anti-bullying law, went into effect after a six-month grace period.
Under the new law, workplace harassment is defined as an act of incurring physical or mental suffering or a worsening of the work environment by employers or workers using their status or power to behave beyond the scope of working norms.
If workplace harassment is reported, employers should immediately investigate it and take proper action, such as preventing victims from working with perpetrators in the same place.
If retaliatory or discriminatory measures are taken against victims or those who report abusive conduct, employers could face a maximum three-year jail term and a fine of up to 30 million won ($25,423). But the law does not stipulate the punishment for a perpetrator.
A separate law, which also went into effect Tuesday, says that stress from workplace bullying is subject to the rules on industrial accidents and compensation.
The anti-bullying law is expected to help root out workplace "gapjil," a newly coined word referring to abusive conduct by people in positions of power toward those under their influence.
"In the past, there was little awareness that sexual abuse was a wrongful act, but these days, people think there should be no sexual harassment. We expect workplace bullying will gradually be resolved with the implementation of the law," an official at the labor ministry said.
Seven contract-based announcers at public broadcaster MBC filed a complaint with the labor ministry against the company Tuesday, claiming that MBC violated the workplace anti-bullying law.
The announcers who joined MBC in 2016-2017 were ordered to leave the company in 2018, which was later judged by labor administrative panels as an unfair dismissal.
A court approved an injunction that they had filed to be granted the temporary status of workers, but the company has blocked them from doing related jobs.
They became the first employees to ask the government to look into the case since the law's implementation.
Experts said it may take time for the law to settle in as there is some ambiguity in judging which cases fall into the category of workplace bullying.
In Feb., the government released a guideline that contains examples of workplace harassment to ease confusion for companies.
Most conglomerates have offered education to their employees or revised their rules on employment or discipline to brace for the law's implementation.
But about 20 percent of smaller firms said they have yet to set up detailed plans to tackle abusive conduct in the workplace, according to a recent survey by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a major business lobby group. (Yonhap)