Ending abuse at the workplace

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Ending abuse at the workplace

Bullying and mistreatment in workplaces are now criminal acts in Korea after a revised labor basic law was passed by the National Assembly. The law, which sat idle since September, gained momentum after a series of cases of gapjil, or abuse or exploitation by those in power, occurred. High-profile figures accused of gapjil include Yang Jin-ho, the owner of multiple file sharing websites connected to porn distribution. Yang is now behind bars for his abusive behavior toward his employees.

The revised law bans any act of abuse by someone in a higher position at work that causes physical, psychological, emotional pain beyond a “reasonable” level or worsens work conditions for others. The employer must immediately conduct an investigation into a report and comply with the employee’s request for a transfer to another department or paid leave. An employer also can be penalized if the victim gets unfavorable treatment for reporting the abuse. The amendment is the first criminal definition of bullying in workplaces.

The law, however, leaves a lot to be desired. It allows criminal punishment for employers, but does not provide a method to penalize the wrongdoers.

The regulation also excludes small workplaces that employ four or fewer employees and employers that hire employees on a contractual or irregular basis. The ambiguity of “reasonable level” also can cause problems over differing interpretations of bullying. Moreover, it is not easy for new recruits or novices in their 20s and 30s to come forward about abusive behavior as they fear losing their jobs.

Workplace abuses have long been structured into Korea’s top-down corporate culture. Some of the cases reported with human rights organizations include a workplace forcing employees to drink a cocktail of soju and beer out of a bowl that the head of the office finished eating from or making staff pluck out silver hairs from their boss’s head.

The National Assembly must fine-tune the law and the Employment and Labor Ministry also should come up with detailed guidelines and a list of prohibited behaviors.

Employers and employees should also work together to root out unfair treatment in the workplace.

JoongAng Sunday, Dec. 29, Page 34
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