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Korea to set workplace harassment criteria: minister

Nov. 1, 2023 - 15:08 By Lee Jung-youn
Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik speaks during a meeting with young workers and experts in Mapo-gu, Seoul, Wednesday. (Ministry of Labor and Employment)

Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik said the government will work to set clear criteria for what constitutes workplace harassment as part of a push to foster a safe working culture, during a meeting with young workers in Seoul on Wednesday.

"Creating a fair and safe workplace is the fundamental starting point of labor reform," said Lee during a meeting with young workers, labor inspectors and related experts at an event organized by the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Lee promised to consider establishing specific criteria that define workplace harassment and having the Labor Relations Commission, an agency under the ministry, mediate in cases of harassment.

The remark came amid growing concerns over the current ambiguous standards for what constitutes workplace harassment, which have been stipulated as violations of labor law since 2019.

The Labor Standards Act defines workplace harassment as "causing physical or mental suffering to other employees or deteriorating the work environment beyond the appropriate scope of work by taking advantage of superiority in rank, relationship.” Vague expressions such as "superiority in rank, relationships" or "appropriate scope of work" have left many workers and companies in the dark.

The number of workplace harassment reports has rapidly increased from 2,000 in 2019 to about 9,000 in 2022. However, according to data received by Rep. Park Dae-soo from the Labor Ministry, of the 30,843 workplace harassment reports received from 2019 to August this year, individuals in only 224 cases (0.7 percent) were indicted.

In addition to workplace harassment, Lee said the ministry would open an anonymous reporting period where workers could report grievances related to workplace harassment.

Lee also said he would deal with related bills within the current regular session of the National Assembly to tighten sanctions on employers who habitually and deliberately delayed paying wages.