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Labor Ministry accused of passing the buck in sexual harassment case

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)
South Korea’s Labor Ministry is facing criticism over a sexual harassment case at a foreign company’s Korean office.

Early in 2020, a male employee in his 30s working for a large British investment firm in Korea reported to the UK headquarters that his female boss was sexually harassing him.

Following the complaint, the boss began asking him to do things that violated company guidelines and the headquarters eventually fired him for failing to comply, according to the accuser.

He then filed a petition with the Ministry of Labor but the ministry would not take the case, saying the Labor Standards Act did not apply to companies with fewer than five employees. But after he filed a complaint with the prosecution, the prosecution reassigned the case to the ministry.

The ministry is expected to look into whether the foreign company’s Korean office should be seen as a firm with fewer than five employees.

Attorney Cho Nam-taek, who represents the accuser, said that clause within the Labor Standards Act was originally designed to protect small businesses, but that the Korean office cannot be considered a small business because its headquarters handles assets worth tens of trillions of won.

“Through this case, the ministry confirmed a sort of extraterritoriality for regional offices of foreign companies,” Cho said. “This raises concerns that even if they violate Korea’s labor law, they will not be subject to any labor supervision or punishment.”

The Ministry of Labor’s official said, “We are currently reviewing this case and a conclusion will be reached soon.”

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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