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Working Hours in Korea

31 Aug 2018

1. Introduction

As we set out in our newsletter in February “Holiday and Leaves in Korea”, holidays and leaves are critical as employees deserve their rightful rest and the basic necessities as human beings. Further, the Labor Standards Act of Korea stipulates working hours of employees with a view to reducing the longest working hours among OECD countries and improving labour productivity.


2. Main Contents

(1) Statutory working hours

As a rule, an adult worker can work up to 40 hours per week - the statutory working hour per week (i.e. 8 hours times 5 days). This rule applies to all enterprises having at least 5 employees.

(2) Recess hours

All employers are required to provide a 30-minute recess at work for an employee who worked 4 hours and a 1-hour recess at work for an employee who worked 8 hours or more.

(3) Overtime hours

Overtime (or working extra hours) means working more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. In the past, it was understood that an employee could work up to 68 hours per week (i.e. 40 hours + 12 hours of overtime + 16 hours of weekends). However, in accordance with the amended Labour Standards Act and regulations, overtime must not exceed 12 hours, including those working hours on public holiday or weekends, which means an employee must not work more than 52 hours (i.e. 40 hours + 12 hours of overtime) with effect from one of the dates below.

  • Enterprises with 300 employees or more: 1 January 2017
  • Enterprises with 50 to 299 employees: 1 January 2020
  • Enterprises with 5 to 49 employees: 1 January 2021

However, workers employed in ground transportation, marine transportation, air transportation and medical practice and sanitary service industries can work more than 52 hours based on a written agreement entered into between the employer and the employees.

(4) Restriction on overtime of female workers

Overtime, nightshift overtime and working on public holidays are strictly not allowed for female workers. Further, a female worker who gave birth less than a year ago must not work extra hours 2 hours per day, 6 hours per week or 150 hours per year despite any written agreement entered into between the employer and the employees. Moreover, an employer must allow a female worker, who is less than 12 weeks or more than 36 weeks pregnant, to reduce her working hours by 2 hours per day and must not reduce her salary or wage based on the reduced working hours.

(5) Overtime premium

An employer is required to pay an overtime premium for working extra hours, which is 50% of ordinary time earnings (“OTE”). Further, the overtime premium for working less than 8 hours on public holidays is 50% of OTE (i.e. the public holiday premium), while that for working more than 8 hours on public holidays is 100% of OTE including the public holiday premium of 50% of OTE. On another note, working on the night shift, which is taken to mean working later than 10 pm, up to 6 am, also attracts the nightshift premium of 50% of OTE. As such, if an employee works extra hours and/or on public holidays later than 10 pm but earlier than 6 am, his/her employer must also pay the additional premium of 50% of OTE for working on the nightshift. For instance, total premium for nightshift overtime is 100% of OTE, including the nightshift premium.


3. Conclusion

Paying premiums in accordance with the amended Labor Standards Act is enforced upon employers based on the size and the industry on a step by step basis. Due to the diversity of business operations and industries of enterprises, it is practically difficult for the relevant authority to enforce the law to all employers at the same time. That said, as violation of this rules could result in a severe penalty such as a fine up to KRW 20 million, employers are strongly advised to seek professional advice from the relevant advisers and experts.

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