Understanding the 52-hour workweek

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Understanding the 52-hour workweek


An employee works at an Emart branch in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, in April. Emart became the first Korean conglomerate to adopt a 35-hour workweek. This change has significantly reduced the number of employees working overtime. Many companies are also making changes to their working schedule. [YONHAP]

The Korea Employers Federation has published a “Guidebook on Working Time Reduction” to help prepare companies for the July 1 implementation of the new 52-hour workweek.

The guidebook, released on Wednesday, answers questions that employers might have on the new regulation based on information from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Employment and Labor and court precedents.

According to the guidebook, time spent on sports events and competitions does count as working hours because the events are mandatory to attend and fall under the supervision of the employer.

Bus drivers resting due to uncertainty in their upcoming bus schedule also counts toward working hours. This is because drivers are awaiting instructions as part of their job, not spending free time away from their employer’s supervision.

Having dinner with a client is not regarded as working hours just because a company credit card is used. However, if the corporate card is used to pay for a meal as a result of a direct instruction from an employer, that time does count toward working hours.

The same standard applies to golf. If an employee voluntarily plays golf with a client without being ordered to do so, that doesn’t count toward working hours, even if it is billed to a corporate card.

Company dinners, however, do not count toward working hours even if a department head directs employees to attend. Workshops count as working hours only if work-related discussion is held, and not if they involve recreational activities and team building.

When traveling abroad for work, the time spent in transit as well as in immigration and waiting for flights counts toward working hours. If one is traveling for business domestically and not abroad, the time spent traveling to and from work does not count.

“Since there are lots of variables to business trips, it is recommended that the necessary working hours are laid out in writing between the company and an employee representative,” the Guidebook on Working Time Reduction suggests.

Job competency enhancement training for employees may or may not count toward working hours. If employees are required to attend, it does count, but if it’s optional, it does not. Regarding online classes, the federation said, “even if workers can decide on their own training hours and locations, if the training is required by the company in order to increase employee productivity, employers must be aware that this will most likely count as working hours.”

The guidebook also provides detailed information on how to calculate overtime hours. The 52-hour workweek system prevents people from working more than 12 hours overtime on top of 40 working hours per week. If an employee works 15 hours overtime in addition to 35 working hours, it is not illegal.

Working eight hours a day from Tuesday to Saturday and four hours on Sunday due to a holiday falling on a Monday is not a violation of the law because the total number of hours worked is still 44. In this case, workers should be paid an additional 50 percent for the hours worked over the weekend.

If an employee goes to work early or works individually on weekends, the hours will not be recognized as overtime unless they were ordered to do so by the company. The guidebook recommends that employees and employers obtain prior approval for overtime work in order to avoid unnecessary conflict.

The Korea Employers Federation also released tips for managers to comply with the law on reducing working hours. The main point of the plan is to strengthen compensation systems based on performance and encourage employees to take advantage of paid vacations in order to break free from the current workplace environment centered on quantity over quality.

The federation said that the first issue is the minimization of working preparation time. In order to improve the workplace culture, the first priority should be to cut unnecessary activities, such as formal meetings and writing unnecessary reports.

The guidebook also stressed that employers should establish a performance-based pay system to improve productivity.

A five-point plan to help employees adapt to the new system recommended removing unnecessary elements and improving work processes, the active use of flexible working hours, facilitating annual paid holidays, reorganizing the work assessment and compensation system and encouraging an immersive work environment.

The federation encouraged employers to promote a healthy work environment for paid vacation and leave. Companies should not ask employees why they are using paid leave days or interfere with their vacation schedules. Leave should also be approved as quickly as possible. The proper use of paid leave will not only ensure that employees are able to rest but also save businesses the expense of unused vacation compensation.

Companies are encouraged to improve work processes so that there is no need for specific departments or individuals to be pushed into doing work outside of their role and responsibilities. In order to eliminate unnecessary work, the federation also argued that it is necessary to clarify responsibilities and discuss extraneous work factors throughout the organization.

Regarding the reorganization of compensation, employers are recommended to reduce the number of automatic salary raises that come with seniority and instead focus on productivity.

The federation also stressed the need to introduce a flexible working hours system, arguing that positive effects can be expected not only in terms of job productivity but also in terms of human resource utilization.

BY PARK TAE-HEE, LEE KEUN-PYUNG [ebusiness@joongang.co.kr]
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