Ask Korea Law

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[Q&A] Leaking Employer’s Confidential Information and Employment Termination : What Is Confidential Information under Korean Law?

“Hello, I am a U.S. citizen working for a Korean listed company.  Recently my company sent me a dismissal notice saying I had breached the employment contract by leaking their confidential information.  Informations at issue are a set of sale/purchase statements of the company.  I downloaded those informations from the company’s server to my personal email account.  But, there has been no warning mark of confidentiality.  My other colleagues have a free access too, and the information sometimes was provided to our suppliers.  Did I really breach the confidentiality of my Korean employer?”  

Leaking employer’s confidential information could result in a termination of the employment contract.  The legal issue, however, still remain whether or not the information can be regarded as a confidential information.

Most employers in Korea have their own rules of employment which state what is a confidential information.  And even an employment contract could list a set of confidential informations which the employee should not disclose to 3rd parties.  But, defining what is a confidential information is a matter of law and, therefore, the Korean court does not always follow the definition which an employer had been set in their internal documents.

The Korean court has well-established precedent that the confidential information should be 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] I Work for Korean Branch of U.S. Company. My Employment Contract Provides U.S Law Shall Apply and Severance Pay Is Not Granted. Can I Still Get a Severance Pay Pursuant to Korean Labor Laws?

Question) I am an American citizen working in South Korea.  Originally I was working for a U.S. company incorporated in the state of New York, but 3 year ago I was seconded to the Korean branch of my U.S. company, and have been working for the branch until now.  When I was seconded, my new employment contract provided that the New York state law shall apply to my employment relation in Korea.  Now, my employment contract is expiring and I would like to know whether I am entitled to the severance pay under the Korean labor law.  I know my employment contract and my company’s policy do not provide the right to severance pay.  But, as I have been working in Korea for 3 years, I am wondering if the statutory rights of severance pay under the Korean labor law could be given to me.

Answer) The answer is Yes.  You are entitled to the severance pay under the Korean labor laws.  (check here as to how the the severance pay under Korean law is recognized and operates)  This answer could be accepted quite surprising considering the fact that the parties had previously agreed (i) the Korean labor should not apply and (ii) the severance pay should not be awarded.  How come the Korean labor law intervenes in the parties’ employment relation which is seemingly irrelevant to the Korean law implications other than the fact that work place of the employee is in Korea?  The answer lies in the provisions of Private International Act of Korea which provide the general principles for the choice of law in Korea.

When a legal relation has certain foreign elements, the court must decide which jurisdiction’s law shall apply to interpret that legal relation.  In Korea, the Private International Act provides the general rules and principles for the governing laws of the various types of legal relations.  Specifically, the Act provides that if the employer and employee agree to their own choice of law, the employment contract is governed by the law chosen by the parties.  But, this does not mean the parties can freely determine which law and regulations apply to their employment relation.  It is true in Korea that the party autonomy is a general principle of governing laws, but party autonomy is subject to limits imposed by the overriding public policy and mandatory rules.  Accordingly, Continue reading


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[Q&A: Labor Law] As an English Teacher in Korea, Am I Entitled to a Severance Payment, Even Though My Contract Doesn’t Provide It?

Q) I am on an F2 visa and teaching for 28 months at the same school. The contract between myself and the owner is basically a few written lines, just mention salary and final teaching date. There is no mentioning of severance payment. According to the labor law, am I entitled to severance payment even though it is not mention in a short contract?

A) If and to the extent that you are legally regarded as an employee under Korean labor law, you are entitled to a severance payment under Korean labor law.

The term employee under the Korean labor law is someone who provides labor pursuant to his or her employer’s instructions or directions in exchange for wage compensation.  The important factors for classifying someone as an employee are, 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


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[Q&A] Can an Employer Ban Its Employee from Having an Additional Job under Korean Labor Law?

Basically Korean labor Law doesn’t regulate employee’s having concurrent and/or additional job.  However, most employment agreements(EA) prohibit employees from having additional jobs.  So there have been many cases where employers fire employees based on his or her breach of prohibition of additional job clause in EA.

In this regard, the court’s standpoint is that as having additional job is a matter of privacy Continue reading


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Severance Payment or Retirement Pension? When You’re Working for Korean Private School

Recently I got an email question from a foreign teacher working for a Korean private university.  He’s wondering why the university is insisting on retirement pension plan instead of severance payment.

There is an act called Pension for Private Teachers and Staff Act(PPTSA) in Korea, which regulates severance payment issues in private school.  As a matter of law, PPTSA is applied prior to the GWRBA(Guarantee of Workers’ Retirement Benefits Act) and it allows the private schools to set a retirement pension plan for its employees instead of severance payment.

With respect to the relationship between the employment contract and the pension plan under PPTSA, Private Universities usually, pursuant to the PPTSA, put the retirement pension clauses, instead of severance payment, in the Rules of Employment(RE) of its own.  As a matter of law, the RE is applied to all the workers in a workplace.  That means, if there exists Continue reading