The Korea Herald


Reports of workplace abuse double over past 5 years

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : April 7, 2024 - 11:26

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Over 10,000 cases of workplace abuse were reported to authorities last year, the Labor Ministry said Sunday, marking a steep increase every year since the government first started compiling such reports in 2019.

According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, it received 10,028 reports of workplace abuse in 2023, up 12 percent from 8,961 the year before.

South Korea in 2019 revised the Labor Standards Act to stipulate in Articles 76-2 and 76-3 the prohibition against workplace harassment and the appropriate measures to be taken in such cases. The ministry first started keeping track of reports of workplace abuse in the second half of 2019, during which 2,130 cases were reported.

In the following years, the figure reached 5,823 in 2020 and 7,774 in 2021, and is continuing its upward trajectory.

The most common form of workplace harassment reported in 2023 was verbal abuse at 32.8 percent, followed by inappropriate measures related to human resources at 13.8 percent. Of the 10,028 reported cases this year, officials took action on 9,672 cases, while 356 cases are still being processed.

In 2,884 cases, those accused of workplace abuse had been found to not have violated the law or the case itself did not occur in a workplace subject to the Labor Standard Act. The act can be applied to workplaces that regularly employ at least five people.

In 2,197 cases, the accuser had dropped the charges.

Only 57 cases led to an indictment since the law specifies criminal punishment only for the act of the employer firing or unfavorably treating the employee that reported an incident of workplace abuse, which can be punished by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won ($22,000). The maximum punishment for other violations is a 10 million won administrative fine, which does not remain on the offender's criminal record.

Surveys indicate that the actual number of workplace abuse incidents is much higher than what the government report suggests, but many employees facing such abuse don't report it for fear of retribution. In February, local pollster Hankook Research announced the results of its survey of 1,000 employees across the country, which showed that 46 percent of respondents have experienced some level of abuse at work. About 33 percent of them said they chose to do nothing, while 31 percent said quit their job and 25 percent said they sought help from those around them.

Only eight percent reported the case to organizations outside the company.

The same survey showed that 96 percent of respondents thought that the legal clause banning workplace harassment should be applied to all workers, including those working for an employer with less than five employees.