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Guidelines issued on sex discrimination in hiring

Nov. 3, 2015 - 22:02 By Ock Hyun-ju
The South Korean government said Tuesday that it would send major companies guidelines on how to prevent sexual discrimination in the hiring processes in response to criticism over the lack of efforts to monitor and discipline workplaces against such violations. 

The Ministry of Employment and Labor said it would introduce a set of discrimination rules to 2,186 conglomerates and 82 major franchises to encourage them to root out sexual discrimination in the hiring process and at workplaces. 

While the current law on gender equality in employment bans discriminatory recruitment with a penalty of up to 5 million won ($4,400), the implementation has been lackluster due to lax monitoring and punishment by the authorities.

Under the rules, the companies should not exclude men or women in job postings without a reasonable cause. The businesses, for example, cannot specify that they want a female secretary or a male worker in their job advertisements. English expressions such as “waiter” and “waitress” that can distinguish a sex cannot be used, either. 

The guidelines specify companies refrain from giving job seekers different entitlements or job statuses based on gender, asking personal questions like marital status at job interviews or mentioning specific requirements related to appearance and body size in the ads. 

But the ministry will allow specific jobs, such as a model for male clothes or a guard for male dormitory, to be reserved for specific genders due to the nature of the jobs. 

The companies will also be allowed to recruit a certain gender with the purpose of easing existing gender inequality at their workplaces. 

In recent years, there have been widespread complaints that companies still ask female candidates sensitive questions, such as whether they are married or plan to have a baby in the near future during the employment process. 

“The corporate culture that violates job seekers’ privacy by asking about marital status and appearance is a problem, but what’s more worrisome is that many companies are not aware of the illegality of such practice,” said Labor Ministry official Nah Young-don, who is in charge of youth and women policy. 

“We will actively promote the relevant law and step up monitoring breach cases to lighten job seekers’ burden.” 

Under the current law on gender equality in employment, no one should face discrimination due to their marital status, role or gender without appropriate reasons. The law also bans companies from asking questions related to height, weight and appearance. 

Last year alone, there were an estimated 630 cases in which employers put up discriminative job postings looking for “good-looking” candidates. The government only warned the companies to scrap the postings or correct some phrases without legally punishing them. 

Defending the claims, another official told The Korea Herald that it is “difficult” practically to take legal actions against businesses violating the law. 

“Job seekers who experienced discrimination in the hiring process are reluctant to come forward in fear that such complaints might adversely affect their job prospects, which makes it tough for us to crack down on the employers breaking the law,” said Labor Ministry official Lee Young-ki.

By Ock Hyun-ju (