Employment Disputes in South Korea

by Hale VanKoughnett, Chief American Citizen Services, US Embassy Seoul, 05/09/2008

Every week, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul receives numerous emails and phone calls from American teachers of English and others concerning their Korean employers.  Many of these scenarios will sound familiar to those reading this website:  “My employer is threatening to fire me without just cause”; “My employer is going to report me to immigration authorities”; “I want to leave earlier than stated on my contract and my employer is threatening to sue me.” 

Replica Watches Many people contact the U.S. Embassy with false expectations of what we can do for them.  You can probably blame the movies for this.  Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. government cannot whisk in Vin Diesel in a Blackhawk helicopter to karate chop an annoying employer.  Consular officers are not even permitted to offer legal advice to people in contractual disputes. 

So, what should you do, and can the Embassy do anything to help?  

Many employment disputes can be avoided through preventative measures.  First, research your employer before agreeing to any contract.  The Embassy cannot investigate, certify, or vouch for employers; therefore, it is up to you to evaluate an employer before signing a contract.  (Click here for more information on contracts from Korea4Expats.)

The Embassy does not provide information about potential employers but can give you basic information about Korea and dealing with the legal hurdles necessary to work here.  For prospective or current English teachers, more specific information can be found in the form of a short guide at: http://seoul.usembassy.gov/teach.html. or on this website in the Working & Business Section.

Second, you should have an "exit plan."  For example, keep funds available to return home should you decide your new job overseas isn’t for you.  However, in case the funds you have brought with you are insufficient to deal with a financial emergency, the Embassy can receive and disburse funds sent to you from a source in the U.S., often faster than a bank or wire transfer.

Third, if you feel that you need legal counsel, contact an attorney.  Consular officers at the U.S. Embassy cannot provide any kind of legal advice or act as attorneys.  We can provide a list of local attorneys who speak English and have dealt with foreigners' cases in the past, which many people have found helpful.  This list can be found at:  http://seoul.usembassy.gov/legal.html. You can also check under lawyers in the Korea4Expats.com Directory for labor specialists: http://www.korea4expats.com/services.php
Finally, you may need to contact a Korean government agency for assistance.  In employment dispute matters, especially for teachers of English, the relevant government agency is in most cases the Korean Ministry of Labor.  Their website is http://english.molab.go.kr/english/.  The phone number for their call center is 031-345-5000.  Phone counseling service is available Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

If you still have any questions after reading this article and checking out the links, please feel free to contact The U.S. Embassy's office of American Citizen Services via email at Seoul_ACS@state.gov or during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) at 02-397-4000 or 397-4114.

I would like to end with a reminder about registration: All U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with your embassy no matter where you are in the world or where you plan to travel.  On-line registration at http://seoul.usembassy.gov/citizen_registration.html allows us to contact you in the event of a family emergency back in the U.S., or if you should become injured overseas and we need to get in touch with your family or your emergency contact.  Registration also allows you to receive our monthly emailed newsletter and periodic emails about security and other important topics.  Please take a few minutes to register your presence in Korea or your travels to other countries.  It could save you or your family a lot of heartache during a time of emergency.

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