Korean Labor Laws

Category : Visa/Legal Issues/Tax
Nov 28, 2014

It’s a real drag if you come to Korea and your employer isn’t treating you well or holding up to his/her end of the contract. It happens. It’s stressful. It can put a bit of a damper on your Korean experience, but it’s not the end of the world. The Korean government (the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Government Legislation and the Korean Immigration Service) have measures in place to help you out. The Labor Standards Act outlines Korean labor laws that apply to Koreans and foreigners, employers and employees. It’s all written down and when a violation happens at your workplace, know that you have the law on your side.


Legal Work Visas

The Ministry of Labor and Korean Immigration have put their noggins together to come up with a list of visas that cover the various fields of work a foreigner might be employed in. If you want to legally work in Korea, you will need one of these stickers in your passport. Want more information than this measly list? Click the hyperlinks to read all about the visa you need.

  1. C-series(short term stay visas): Short-term Employment (C-4)
  2. E-Series (specific employment visas): Professor (E-1), Foreign Language Instructor(E-2), Research(E-3), Technological Guidance (E-4), Professional Employment (E-5), Arts and Performance (E-6), Special Occupation (E-7), Non-Professional Employment (E-9), Vessel Crew (E-10),
  3. F-Series (long-term residency visas): Residency (F-2), Overseas Korean (F-4), Permanent Residence (F-5), Marriage to a Korean National (F-6)
  4. H-Series (working holiday visas): Working Holiday( H-1), Working Visit (H-2)


Equal Treatment Principle (Article 5 of the Labor Standard Act)

Is everyone at your workplace treated like an angel, except for you? If the answer is ‘yes’ there is something you can do about it. According to the principle of equal treatment, an employer is bound by law to treat all employees equally. He/she must not discriminate by sex, nationality, religion or social status.


This article is even applied to illegal workers, those working in Korea without a work visa or with an expired or terminated work visa. You’ll be penalized if you get caught, but your employer will also be criminally punished is he/she has been treating you like garbage. So if you’re going down anyway, why not bring him/her down with you?


à Did you know? This rule about treating illegal workers equally does not just apply when your employer is discriminating against you. You can also claim your severance pay, due wages and bonus pay through the Korean Standard Labor Act, unrelated to your work status.


Labor Contracts (beginning at Article 15 of the Labor Standards Act)

Sign a contract before you start working for a new employer. The contract should be explicit and stipulate clearly in all matters pertaining to the following:

  1. wages
  2. contractual working hours
  3. holidays
  4. annual paid leave
  5. Other working conditions prescribed by the Presidential Decree. (This last matter is a bit vague, so take the opportunity to clarify if you don’t understand or want something included)


General Information

  1. The contract is null and void if anything in the contract does not adhere to the codes laid out by the Labor Standards Act.
  2. All Korean labor contracts are one year except in cases where no term is fixed or a specific term is needed to complete the job. Contracts can be extended prior to completion.
  3. See the sample contract for details about what you can expect from a Korean employment contract.


à Tip: Speak up and ask that matters regarding these areas be included if they are not. If your employer is hesitant to make negotiations regarding your contract, consider twice about signing. Perhaps you are making unreasonable demands, but perhaps not. You can always walk away prior to signing, but afterwards it’s not so easy.


Wages (beginning at Article 43 of the Labor Standards Act)

  1. You should be paid in full in cash (as stated in the article) directly by your employer. You and your employer can negotiate an alternative method of payment. Most companies prefer to pay their employees via wire bank transfer.
  2. Your employer must pay you at least once a month on the same day stipulated in your contract.
  3. If your employer is late or if he/she forgets a few hundred thousand KRW owed, he/she is breaking your contract and the code of conduct set forth by the Labor Standards Act. That’s a criminal activity. You can claim damages and can terminate the contract immediately. This applies to any conditions expressed in the contract that are different from actual conditions.
  4. Minimum Wage in Korea as of January 2013 is 4,580KRW per hour. It will be raised to 4,860KRW per hour by August, 2013. That’s 1.02 million KRW per month based on a 40 hour work week.

Working Hours (beginning at Article 50 of the Labor Standards Act)

Work Week: Despite actual practice in many Korea workplaces, working hours designated by law are 8 hours per day or 40 hours a week. Anything over that is overtime.


Break Time: You should be getting a one hour break for every eight hours you work. Work for 4 hours and you should get a 30 minute rest. Unfortunately the rest period is not included in the on-duty hours. Most of companies provide a one hour lunch break forcing the on-duty hours from 9:00-18:00. If you don’t like eating lunch at lunch time, you are free to take your break(s) as you see fit, although some employers will stipulate lunch time in the contract.


Overtime: Apparently (according to the law) overtime hours cannot exceed 12 hours per week. You should be compensated for staying late too. Your employer is supposed to pay 50% of your regular hourly wage in addition to your regular wage.


Night Duty: Night duty is 10pm to 6pm. It follows the same rule of pay as overtime - you get 50% your wage plus your due wages.


Weekly Breaks: Weekends do exist is Korea. Your employer must give you at least one full day off per week. If you work on your off day, you’ll be paid your full wages plus 50% more.

à Note: You can request that you be awarded vacation days in lieu of extra pay when you work overtime, on night duty or on your weekends.


National Holidays: There are 11 national holidays. Your employer has to give these to you or make up for it on another day.


Annual Paid Vacation:

  1. If you’ve shown up for work for over 80% of your fixed working time during one year, your employer should reward you with fifteen days of paid holidays in the next year.
  2. If it’s your first year at the company you will be allotted fifteen days of paid holidays or one off day for every 30 days working, considering that you have actually come to work during that period.
  3. If you manage to last more than three consecutive years at a company, you should be given an additional day off for every two years at the same company. Vacation days are capped at 25 days.
  4. You can request your annual paid vacation at anytime but give your employer a two week heads up. If your request comes at an inconvenient time, your boss can refuse permission.
  5. If by chance you did not take your vacation within a year, your boss should pay you additionally for your time. Since vacation time is paid you should receive your regular (or average wages) twice for the unused time. Rather than paying you, your employer can order you to use the vacation time instead.


Here is a little chart to better understand annual paid vacation over time:

Continuous Service

1 year

2 years

3 years

4 years

5 years

10 years

15 years

20 years

25 years

30 years

Number of Vacation Days

15 days

15 days

16 days

16 days

17 days

19 days

22 days

24 days

25 days

25 days


Women’s Rights (beginning at Article 65 of the Labor Standards Act)

Menstrual Leave: You can request that your employer give you one day off per month for the “suffering” your period causes. It is an unpaid “holiday”.


Maternity Leave: You are entitled to 90 days of maternity leave.

  1. The first 60 days is paid, covered by your employer. The last 30 days in optional and unpaid, but employment insurance (EI) should take care of it. Most foreigners don’t opt for EI, so you may only be awarded two months of paid vacation. As well, if you work for a small company, you employer is not required to pay maternity leave. In this case, EI will cover the costs if you have the insurance. Otherwise you may take the leave unpaid.
  2. The employer must grant you at least 45 of the 90 days after the childbirth. The rest can be taken as you wish before or after the delivery.


Working in a Pit: This is a slightly odd article in the Labor Standards Act, but in any case, women and minors are prohibited from working inside a pit. Female news reporters and doctors are allowed to do duties in a pit, but other than that, you won’t find women working in pits.


Night Duty: Women don’t have to work overnight from 22:00-06:00. You can flatly refuse this demand if your boss tries to make it.


Dismissal (beginning at Article 19 of the Labor Standards Act)

General codes

  1. Try not to be paranoid about your job security. Your boss can’t fire you without reasonable justification. He/she also can’t change your job, reduce your salary or cut your hours on a whim.
  2. Dismissal must follow the criteria laid out in the contract and in the Labor Standards Act.
  3. You can file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor at the Labor Relations Commission if you feel that your dismissal violates your contract or the Labor Standards Act (see below for details).
  4. You can’t be dismissed for medical leave due to an accident that happened at work, nor can a pregnant woman lose her job for getting pregnant.


Process of Dismissal

  1. Your employer needs to give you a letter explaining reasons for your dismissal. You be verbally told to go home once you’ve signed a contract.
  2. Your boss must give you 30 days prior to your dismissal date or they can pay you one month’s salary to leave then.
  3. Employers do not have to follow the dismal process of the Labor Standards Act if:
  • Something happened to the business (like a natural disaster or accident) and it is not possible for the boss to run the business anymore.
  • You caused damages or troubles deliberately to the business.
  • You have been employed on a daily basis for less than three consecutive months.
  • You have been employed for a fixed period not exceeding two months.
  • You have been employed monthly for less than six months.
  • You have been employed for seasonal work for a fixed period not exceeding six months.
  • You are on a probationary period.


Dismissing a Manager

It’s not easy to fire a manager. The boss must follow these codes to ensure fair treatment is upheld:

  1. The employer must demonstrate a need to fire the manager.
  2. The employer must try to avoid dismissal.
  3. A fair and reasonable process of dismissal should be followed.
  4. If possible, the employer should try to transfer the manager within the company or offer alternative positions for hire.
  5. The employer must give the manager in question 50 days written notice upon dismissal.


The Ministry of Labor

The Ministry of Labor is in charge of labor laws and can help foreigners who have problems with their employers. The Ministry of Labor will follow and apply the Labor Standard Act of Korea which is explicit in outlining the labor laws of Korea. The Ministry of Labor offers services for foreigners working in Korea. Do not hesitate to call if you have a problem at your workplace or if you need to clarify your rights.



  1. Ministry of Government Legislation
  2. Ministry of Labor
  3. Labor Standards Act


National Labor Consultation Center

Phone counseling service is available from Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 18:00.

  1. Overseas Phone: +82-31-345-5200
  2. Domestic Phone:  031-345-5200
  3. Website (counseling forum)


International Cooperation Bureau

This is the Ministry of Labor office that deals with policies and the Labor Acts.

  1. Phone: +82-2-2110-7436 or +82-2-2110-7445
  2. Email: molab506@moel.go.kr


Foreign Workforce Policy Division

This part of the ministry deals mainly with non-professional foreign workers (migrant workers and laborers)

  1. Phone: +82-2-2110-7198



Photo Credit: Bloomberg

Tags : Korea. Labor. Law.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.