South Korea: New Leave Entitlements Granted

By Ius Laboris October 24, 2019
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South Korea: New Leave Entitlements Granted

​Recent legislative changes in South Korea extend entitlements to paternity leave and child care leave and grant employees the right to time off on a wider range of grounds.

On Aug. 2, the Korean National Assembly passed significant amendments to the Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act (the EEA).

Key changes to the EEA include:

  • More paid paternity leave.
  • More options for child care leave allocation.
  • More flexible family-care leave.

Employees also will be entitled to take time off work for a wider range of reasons.

Paternity Leave

Before the paternity leave amendment, which took effect Oct. 1, employers were required to provide from three to five days of paternity leave, with only the first three days as paid leave. The amendment requires employers to guarantee 10 days of paid paternity leave.

In addition, to ease the increased financial burden on small companies, the government will provide a subsidy to "businesses eligible for preferential support"—as defined in the Enforcement Decree of the Employment Insurance Act—for five days of paternity leave, although the exact amount of the subsidy has not yet been decided. No subsidies were previously available for paternity leave and employers consequently bore the full burden of the three guaranteed paid days.

Employees will be able to make the request to use paternity leave within 90 days after the delivery date, significantly extended from the current 30-day window.

The paternity leave described above can be used separately, split into a maximum of two periods.

Child Care Leave and Reduced Work Hours

Before the child care leave amendment, which took effect Oct. 1, an employee with a child who is either eight years old or younger, or who is in the second grade or below in elementary school, is entitled to one year of child care leave and reduced work hours, combined, which can be used all at once or split between two separate periods. Consequently, an employee who used one year of child care leave was not entitled to any further period of reduced work hours for child care for the same child.

The new amendment creates a separate entitlement to one year of reduced work hours for child care. So, eligible employees may take one year of leave for child care per qualifying child and a further one year of reduced work hours for child care for the same child. In addition, any unused period of child care leave may be used instead as a period of reduced hours.

For example, an eligible employee may take:

  • One year of child care leave plus one year of reduced work hours;
  • Six months of child care leave plus one year and six months of reduced work hours; or
  • No child care leave plus two years of reduced work hours.

In addition, this amendment provides more options to employees, as they now may demand a reduction of one to five hours per day instead of the two to five hours per day permitted before the amendment.

Employees could, prior to the amendment, receive a wage-replacement subsidy during a child care leave period, up to a maximum of 80 percent of their ordinary wage, capped at 1,500,000 Korean wons—approximately US$1,277—per month. The government plans to increase this subsidy amount to 100 percent of the employee's ordinary wage for the first five reduced hours every week, capped at 2,000,000 Korean wons—US$1,702—per month. The subsidy amount for any reduced hours in excess of the first five hours remains the same (that is, a maximum of 80 percent of ordinary wage, capped at 1,500,000 Korean wons per month).

Family-Care Leave

Currently, an employee on family-care leave must use at least 30 days at a time out of the 90 days allowed per year. That means employees can make use of family-care leave up to three separate times per year. Of the 90-day family-care leave entitlement, the new amendment will, as of Jan. 1, 2020, permit employees to use up to 10 days each year on a single-day basis (that is, one day at a time rather than 30 contiguous days).

This amendment will also expand the scope of permitted uses of family-care leave, to include "taking care of children" (e.g., attending school events). Furthermore, it will expand the scope of "family" so employees may use family-care leave to look after a grandparent or grandchild; currently, only parents, parents-in-law, spouses and children are covered. An employer can deny an employee's request to go on family-care leave or request a change in the leave period only on a limited basis.

The effective date of this measure is phased based on workforce size:

  • Jan. 1, 2020, for employers with 300 or more employees and most government-invested or government-controlled employers.
  • Jan. 1, 2021, for employers with 30-299 employees.
  • Jan. 1, 2022, for employers with fewer than 30 employees.

Currently, the law only entitles employees to take reduced work hours during the early and late stages of pregnancy or for child care purposes. The new amendment will introduce a right to reduced work hours for family care, an employee's own illness or injury, retirement preparations (for those age 55 or over) and for academic study. This will be the first time that Korean law has entitled employees to any time off for nonwork-related illnesses and injuries.

Conclusion

All employers should be aware of these recent amendments and ensure that they are prepared to comply with the changes. As described above, the paternity and child care leave changes became effective Oct. 1, while the changes to family-care leave will be phased in from Jan. 1, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2022. We recommend that employers reflect the new changes in their rules of employment and update policies in accordance with the new legal regime.

Ius Laboris is the world's largest global HR and employment law firm alliance. The article was written by Sang Wook Cho, Soojung Lee and Christopher Mandel, who are attorneys with Yulchon in Seoul, South Korea. © 2019 Yulchon. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.

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