Ask Korea Law

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Specific Grounds for Disciplinary Action or Termination under Korean Labor Law – Employer’s Standpoint

When you hire an employee in South Korea, you cannot freely fire the employee.  The Article 30 of Labor Standard Act(“LSA”) requires a “justifiable cause” if and when an employer takes disciplinary actions, including termination of employment, with regard to its employees.  Korean courts have held that a “justifiable cause” refers to such causes as criminal offense, serious illegal acts, and gross negligent acts, etc. which would make maintaining of the relevant employment relationships no longer possible under generally accepted public notions.

Especially, because a termination of employment is the most extreme measure, taking away an employee’s means of making a living, Korean courts are known to be very strict in applying the above-noted criteria, when it determines whether a particular termination is justified.  Thus, unless an employee’s specific conduct is something that makes current employer-employee relationship no longer possible to continue, it would be advisable for an employer to take less severe disciplinary actions such as suspension of employment, reduction of salary, or reprimand.

Further, as regards the employment termination, under LSA, an employer may also terminate employees where the employer can establish Continue reading


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[Case Report] Attorney Wonil Chung Wins for Expat’s Korean Severance Entitlement – Foreign Employers Cannot Circumvent Severance Liability through a Contract Manipulation

There are so many foreign expats working in Korea.  As you know well, Korean labor law recognizes a severance liability of all employers in Korea regardless of the size of their business and also the nationality of the employee(check here as to how the the severance pay under Korean law is recognized and operates).  This also applies to the foreign employers such as Korean branches of foreign companies.  The problem is that some foreign employers are ignorant of their severance liability under the Korean law.  Even further, some foreign employers try to evade from their severance liability.  Sometimes they provide wrong information such as “foreigners are not entitled to the Korean severance” to their staffs, designate a foreign law as the governing law of their labor contracts, and have their staffs in Korea enter into the employment contract with their non-Korean entity such as a head office in the U.S. or a Singapore branch.  Those attempts, however, are all meaningless in a sense that regardless of those, they are still liable for the severance pay.  Actually, we have represented foreign employees for their Korean severance claim against the Korean branch and recently we won the case.

This case involved the expats working as ship inspectors in Ulsan Gorgon project.  We filed the severance suit on behalf of Continue reading


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What to Expect When Dismissed by Employer in Korea

It is well known that the Korean labor law provides the employees with generous protections when it comes to the matter of disciplinary measures taken by the employer. Unlike many other foreign legal regimes, Labor Standard Act of Korea (LSA) requires the employer of five or more employees to establish a just cause for a dismissal and any other disciplinary actions.  In other words, the employment is not “at-will” in Korea.  (Note:  There is a legal concept of no fault dismissal based on the managerial hardship under the LSA, which requires very strict requirements to execute.  This will be the subject of our upcoming article) 

This rule of law shall equally apply to the employment contract between Korean employer and Foreign employee in Korea, and vice versa.  More importantly, this is the case even when the employee working in Korea agrees in his employment contract that the Korean labor law does not apply.  That is because the Private International Act of Korea which provides the general principles for the choice of law in Korea enables every Korean and foreign employee working in Korea to enjoy the very protections under the mandatory rules of the Korean labor law. Therefore, it is highly advisable that any foreign employee working in Korea and a multinational which has employees in Korea must understand how the Korean labor law regulates the dismissal and under what situation the dismissal becomes a wrongful termination.

Then What is the Just Cause for Dismissal in Korea?

The LSA does not provide what the just cause exactly means.  It is up to the court’s review and the decision thereafter.  That said, it is firmly established in the Supreme Court’s precedent that Continue reading


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[Q&A: Labor Law] Is There a Legally Binding “40 Working Hour a Week Limit” in Korea?

Q) Please could you clean up this question that nobody seems to be willing to answer. Is there a legally binding 40 working hour a week or not in Korea?

A) Yes, there is a 40-work-hours clause in Korean labor law.

The Labor Standard Act of Korea provides that “Work hours shall not exceed 40 hours a week, excluding hours of recess”.

However, in case of workers who are not less than eighteen years of age and women workers who are not in pregnancy, an employer and a workers’ representative can legally agree to extend work hours in excess of 40 hours a week to the extent that Continue reading