Naver COO quits after suicide possibly bullying related

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Naver COO quits after suicide possibly bullying related

From right, Naver's chief operating officer Choi In-hyuk, chief executive officer Han Seong-sook and founder and global investment officer Lee Hae-jin. [JOONGANG PHOTO]

From right, Naver's chief operating officer Choi In-hyuk, chief executive officer Han Seong-sook and founder and global investment officer Lee Hae-jin. [JOONGANG PHOTO]

 
Choi In-hyuk, chief operating officer (COO) of Naver, will resign to take the responsibility for bullying in the workplace that allegedly led to the suicide of a worker last month, while Naver will reconfigure its organizational structure.  
 
Choi, one of the founding members of the company, will remain CEO of Naver Financial.
 
Naver on Friday held an online meeting with employees and revealed the result of the initial investigation into the death of Byun Dae-gyu, who was in his 40s.  
 
“After the investigation, it was found that there was some bullying within the organization, and related employees were found to be irresponsible at making efforts to create a healthy organizational culture,” Naver said in a statement. “COO Choi offered to resign to take the responsibility, and the board will accept the request.”
 
The resignation comes about a month after the Naver employee committed suicide, on May 25. His final suicide note, e-mails and records on the corporate instant message service revealed that an executive abused him physically and verbally. The executive served as chief leader of the map development team, and was the direct superior of the deceased.
 
Naver’s union released a report and said the employee had a heavy workload as he worked at night after going home, even during vacation.
 
Naver will abandon its current management system, which many criticize as overcentralized and too hierarchical. Currently, four people — chief executive officer Han Seong-sook, chief financial officer Park Sang-jin, chief communication officer Chae Sun-joo and chief operating officer Choi In-hyuk — have ultimate executive authority.
 
Naver vowed to change its organizational structure so that it can have better communications with employees. The company will form a task force for this.  
 
“We anticipate a change to our management system will be a good starting point to make new corporate culture,” Byun said. “Naver, as we’ve always been doing, will take another leap forward under the new system."  
 
Naver CEO Han sent an e-mail to the employees and promised to make all efforts to create a healthy corporate culture and leadership structure.
 
Workplace bullying has been a major issue in the IT industry as executives at Krafton, a major online game developer planning to go public, have also been accused of bullying.  
 
According to multiple local reports, some of the game company’s employees have reported to its personnel department that they have been bullied by two superiors since October last year. Some of them have submitted written petitions to the Employment and Labor Ministry’s Eastern Seoul District Office.
 
Employees said in the petition that a unit leader at Krafton forced them to work overtime and ordered them not to use half-days off that they had the right to take, according to local reports. An employee was ordered by the unit leader to work and eat in a 1-pyeong room amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in April. A pyeong is 3.3 square meters.
 
The petition also said an employee suffering from a severe case of tinnitus requested a team leader to reduce the amount of work due to the condition but was refused.
 
The Ministry of Employment and Labor is currently on the case.
 
“We have started an investigation into the case and have taken action to protect the employees by giving them paid vacations immediately after the reports were made,” Krafton said Friday. “We hired a certified labor attorney for the investigation and are currently checking both sides of the story.”
 

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BY SARAH CHEA [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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