The National Assembly passed an amendment of Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act (Equal Employment Act) reinforcing employer's duty on sexual harassment at work on 9 November 2017. It's been 18 years since a new article on sexual harassment was included in the law. Despite, sexual harassment has not been rooted out in work places and a recent sexual harassment at Hanssem Inc. demonstrated the seriousness of sexual violence and harassment in the society. Although the amendment has been belatedly passed in the National Assembly, it has significance in a sense that it reaffirms sexual harassment at work is not a personal problem but a problem that a company has official responsibility for. It has importance in that the law reinforces employer's duty on sexual harassment as well.

 

  The amendment stipulates that anyone can report an occurrence of sexual harassment on the job to the employer, and the employer is obligated to verity what is reported upon receiving or recognizing it, while taking measures to protect the victim including changing working site and paid leave. When a case of sexual harassment is verified, the employer has an obligation to take measures to protect the victimized worker and to take a disciplinary action against the perpetrator. It also bans any disadvantageous action on the victim. When an employer takes disadvantageous actions on a victim, the employer shall be punished by imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or by a fine not exceeding 30 million won and when an employer neglects to verify the harassment, to protect a victim or to take a disciplinary action against a perpetrator, the employer shall be punished by a fine not exceeding 5 million won. It also stipulates the employer's obligation to change working place on the request from the worker when a sexual harassment is committed by a customer. The employer is also obliged to provide paid leave on demand. And an employer shall be punished by a fine not exceeding 3 million won when an employer violates the obligations.

 

  The law before amendment had loopholes as it had poor regulations on the employer's responsibility for verification, a follow-up process and ban on disadvantageous actions, which led to poor protection on the victims. It was rampant that victims suffered secondary and further victimization and damages such as bullying at work and disadvantages in employment, which was well illustrated in the survey on victims by sexual harassment conducted by Seoul Women Workers Association in 2016. The survey found that 57% of the respondents experienced disadvantages at work after raising sexual harassment issues and 72% of them left company. The law lacked in articles by which workers were protected from sexual harassment committed by a customer and this led to frequent sexual harassments by customers.

 

  Only one out of 552 complaints in regards to sexual harassment at work submitted to the Ministry of Employment and Labor was prosecuted and 26 cases were dropped. 453 were ended as administrative closure. There are complains that courageous complaints would result in little effects because of narrow interpretation despite the fact that these sexual harassments take place among working relationships.

 

  The number of counselling about sexual harassment at work via Hot Line for Equality & Counselling for Equal Employment has increased every year and women labor movements have continuously made efforts to amend the law to reinforce employer's obligation to protect victims of sexual harassment at work. The amendment was desperate and urgent as sexual harassment was in violation of equal rights for women and right to work with dignity.

 

  The employer's obligation including protection on victims must be effectively reinforced by taking the amendment as an opportunity. It is not a victim’s personal problem. This is why employers must carry the responsibility for verifying the case, taking disciplinary actions, and making efforts to prevent the recurrence of sexual harassment. The Ministry of Employment and Labour must have stronger responsibility to enact the amendment effectively. If it neglects its roles despite the fact that the law is amended, we cannot expect effectiveness of the amended law. Every corner of the society including employers and the government must continue to make efforts to make our workplace safe with gender equality and no sexual harassment.

 

 

2017. 11. 10

 

Posted by KWWA

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