“Does the company have to take action if there is a new, young female employee who says she is being stared at by another male employee when walking by his office?”
“Could there be a problem if a newly-appointed supervisor tells an employee who is past age 60 to take easy tasks and prepare for retirement?”
“What happens if a human resources manager is asked by the headquarters to hire a female Caucasian employee, and asks a job interviewee if she is Caucasian?”
The above are cases used as examples during the monthly seminar held by the Korean Investors and Traders Association (KITA) in an effort to educate various employers about labor laws. All of the cases mentioned above connotes potential legal actions.
While sexual harassment can apply to any gender, men are in greater danger of causing bigger issues by simply staring at women. It is also taboo for one to use the word retirement to an elderly employee during a formal conversation. Also, preference of a certain ethnicity or gender is essentially a shortcut to getting sued.
KITA’s seminar at L.A. Koreatown hotel on Thursday discussed various labor issues, including wages, vacation, discrimination, harassment and layoffs, as Korean-American attorney Jin-jeong Kim was invited as the main speaker before a crowd of 120 attendees, many of whom were employers who is in charge of hiring at their respective workplaces.
“The reality is that harassment in a legal sense applies to a wide range of situations, such as sexual, linguistic, physical and visual conflicts,” said Kim. “Labor laws in Korea offers a certain level of protection for employees. In the U.S., workplace harassment lawsuits target the employer directly. A worst case scenario can even shut down a company.”
Harassment lawsuits commonly center on the victim, and it is often difficult to provide a counterargument to the allegations. That is because even the vaguest actions, such as a simple body language or a hostile environment, could be considered a harassment.
“It is also rather common for two employees at their workplace to develop a romantic relationship and their potential breakup can sometimes lead to harassment lawsuits,” said Kim. “Many big companies sometimes ask their employees to sign a ‘love contract,’ which is similar to a prenuptial agreement designed for their employers to avoid potential consequences in case one of them files a lawsuit against another in the future.”
Among the key points brought up at the seminar, main provisions for harassment lawsuits included, (1) develop a system that reports and investigate workplace harassment within the company, (2) disciplinary actions must be recorded in writing, (3) prepare an appropriate handbook to inform the employees, (4) training must be conducted regularly on a yearly basis, (5) remind the employees that they must choose their words and physical behaviors carefully, (6) provide a clear set of standards for laying off an employee.
“This reminded me once again about how important it is to start and end relationships with the employees,” said Kumho Electronic’s Yong-won Kim, who attended the seminar. “I also learned that training and educating the current employees is vital.”
By Brian Choi