Gov’t talks tough on workplace sexual abuse

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Gov’t talks tough on workplace sexual abuse

The government on Tuesday announced a set of measures aimed at preventing sexual harassment in workplaces in the wake of a tawdry scandal at the country’s largest furniture maker.

The labor and gender equality ministries said they will impose harsher penalties for sexual harassment in workplaces, although it stopped short of specifying how severe they will be. The government also said it will try to revise labor-related laws next year so that sexual harassment and violence in workplaces will be compulsory topics at regular management-labor union negotiations.

“We will mandate the monitoring of potential sexual harassment cases in all workplaces regardless of business type,” said Im Suh-jung, a labor ministry official during a press briefing at the Sejong government complex. “The monitoring will look into whether a company has given preventative educational courses and conducted appropriate follow-up measures after a sexual harassment claim is made.”

The government will also carry out a campaign encouraging the public to report cases of workplace sexual harassment to authorities and civic groups.

Last Thursday, the National Assembly passed a revised labor law on gender equality in the workplace that mandates tougher punishment for those found guilty of sexual harassment and assault. Im said the government would seek further revisions to make the punishments more severe.

Under the revised laws passed last Thursday, a company that fails to offer sexual harassment prevention training to workers will face a fine of up to 5 million won ($4,470), up from 3 million won under the old law.

The penalty for a company that coerces a victim to make a false testimony to cover up sexual harassment was raised to 30 million won from the previous 20 million won.

The action came after Hanssem, Korea’s No.1 furniture maker, has been under intense scrutiny over sex abuse and cover-up allegations that emerged earlier this month.

On Nov. 3, a 25-year-old wrote on an anonymous website that she was raped, sexually assaulted and secretly photographed in a restroom by three different male colleagues, all less than a year after she started working for Hanssem. The alleged victim wrote that she was coerced to have sexual intercourse with a senior colleague earlier this year - only to have the human resources manager force her to lie to protect the company’s reputation.

Hanssem Chairman Choi Yang-ha apologized on Nov. 4 and promised a thorough investigation into the case to make sure it doesn’t recur. Another sexual assault case erupted at Hyundai Card in which a female worker alleged she was sexually assaulted by a senior male worker in May. The card company issued a statement on Nov. 7 that its internal investigation did not find the 35-year-old male worker had sexually abused the alleged victim as claimed, stressing that it maintains a zero-tolerance policy for workplace sexual aggression.

The number of workplace sexual harassment and abuse reports has more than doubled over a five-year period to 532 as of October from 263 in 2012, according to the government.

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