|The information presented on these pages was current as of December 2000. There have been several unconfirmed reports that the rules and regulations governing Severance pay have changed since that time. Please use the information presented here in that context, and help everyone by posting any confirmable updates to this site in the guestbook.|
If at all possible, it is best for everyone involved to resolve your severance situation without entering the tangled web of the Korean legal system. Even if you have to compromise and give up a few hundred thousand won, this may be preferable to the time and hassle required to make this system work for you.
You are a foreigner in an unfamiliar, confusing and fundamentally corrupt system. In order to be successful I believe it is necessary to have a Korean interpreter. Even if you speak Korean well, as a foreigner you will be seen in a better light if a Korean is with you and outwardly in support of your cause.
Koreans can be shy speaking English with foreigners. The sad fact is that the person who speaks to you will have their pronunciation and grammar judged by everyone listening, and even though they were bold enough to speak to you while others cowered in the corner, any mistake they make will bring the derision of their peers.
At the same time the fact that you are a foreigner can work in your favor. Most of the officials you meet, other than those from Immigration, will not be accustomed to seeing a foreigner in need of their help. This will not be an ordinary case for them, and you stand to gain a lot of consideration. Use this to your advantage.
Be prepared to wait. Legal systems tend to be rather ponderous and require some time and patience. Your employer and their lawyers are counting on you being intimidated by the system, or simply giving up and going home. This ploy has been too successful in the past. Try to disappoint them.
It works in this way: After completing one calendar year of full-time employment at an establishment with more than six full time workers, you have earned the equivalent of one month's salary. This money is owed to you, but your employer is not required to pay you until the end of your employment. At that time, your employer is given 14 days to pay you all of the severance pay owed.
It is important to note that you earn severance pay for every month of employment after completing your first year. This means that if you work for 14 months, you have earned severance pay for one year and two months.
However, it is worth the fight. The law is squarely on your side, and you should not let anyone dissuade you from taking the necessary steps to collect what is rightfully yours.
1. The first step is to approach your employer regarding your severance pay, and attempt to resolve any difficulties at an early stage in a friendly and professional manner. An employee armed with the correct information and well informed of his or her rights may be enough to convince an employer to pay what is owed without need of further difficulties.
2. In the event that your employer refuses to pay you, your next step will be to contact the Ministry of Labor. Note that your employer legally has 14 days to pay you before they are in violation of the law, so even if your employer has stated that they will not pay you, you must wait 14 days before filing a complaint. Once you arrive at the Ministry of Labor, you will need to state your case to an officer of the Ministry. At this time you will need someone reliable to interpret for you. You will also need to have documentation in the form of pay stubs for at least the last three months, in order to calculate your correct severance amount. This is also proof that you have been employed as a full time worker.
3. A representative from the Ministry will contact your employer and schedule an interview. You will typically be required to attend that interview, which should be scheduled within two weeks. Your employer must attend the meeting or forfeit the case. If you meet the legal qualifications outlined above, you will win this hearing and the Ministry will "recommend" that your employer pay you. The ministry has no real authority and can not enforce its verdict, but a favorable ruling here will virtually guarantee your victory if a civil case is needed.
4. The next step, in most cases unnecessary, is to file civil charges against your employer in an effort to collect your severance. This is done by going to the Ministry of Justice and filing your case. You do not need a lawyer for this, although an interpreter is recommended, and the fee is 30,000 won. Action will be taken with a few weeks. Your employer will be required to attend a hearing, and with the recommendation of the Ministry of Labor against them, they will be required to pay the severance amount. The court can and will enforce this by seizing property from your employer and selling it if your employer still refuses to pay.
In the past, foreign teachers and other workers in South Korea have remained ignorant of their rights and have continually allowed Korean employers to take advantage of them. Although far from a perfect system, Korean law does protect foreign workers and can be made to work for you. Think of it this way, if your employer in Canada or the United States owed you $3000 would you simply walk away?
Not everyone will be successful in their attempt at justice, but if more foreign workers in Korea continue to stand up for themselves the future may be brighter for all of us. Good Luck!