Working and Business > Labour Regulations

Disputes with Employers

Disputes with Employers

Labor disputes or conflict with an employer can arise in any country and Korea is no exception!

Although many employers of foreign staff are honest people who are trying to do their best, some are not aware that they are violating Korea’s labor laws, or that the employee could be interpreting the contract or ‘promises’ in a different way from their understanding of it. And, there are also some employers who do know the difference and who are aware that they are in conflict with the law and their responsibilities, but who hope the foreign worker won’t know her/his rights or that there are mechanisms in Korean law that do offer protection to non-Korean employees.

In very few instances, do the rights of employees and obligations of employers (and vice versa) not apply equally to foreign and domestic workers. And where there is a difference, it is often intended to shore up or clarify the rights of expat staff.

Regardless of the source of the dispute, conflicts can arise between foreign staff and local management. You do not have to just write it off as bias against foreigners and either swallow the perceived injustice or return to your home country with a negative perception of this one. Following are some of the steps you can take:

1. The very first thing that needs to be done is to verify that your employer is, in fact, in violation of the law. There are various ways to do that
i) check out other information pages on this site (scroll down to a list of pages in this category, look elsewhere in the Working & Business section or use the search box).
ii) contact the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) Consultation Center  - there's a hot line for foreign employees and another for foreign employers.
Phone Counselling service is available Monday thru Friday between 9:00 AM and 6:00PM
Foreign Workers can call: 1350 Ext 5  (from outside Korea +82-52-702-5089 Ext 5)  or  031-345-5000 / +82-31-345-500)
Foreign Employers can call: 031-345-5200 (from outside Korea 82-31-345-5200).
The International Cooperation Bureau (according to the MOEL website provides information on the MOEL homepage and policies. Tel: 02-2110-7436/7445 (82-2-21100-7436/7445) or email:
For more information on the Employment Permit System, you can contact the Foreign Workforce Policy Division at 02-2110-7198 (82-2-2110-7198)
iii) take advantage of the free 30-minute consultation offered by lawyers. This would be an information search only and, depending on the situation, does not require that you take legal action right away.

2. Time and circumstances permitting, the second step would be to discuss your understanding of the law with your employer. This should be done in a low-key, and non-confrontational manner. Otherwise you risk forcing your employer into a face-saving corner or getting her/his back up in reaction to the perceived lack of respect. In many instances, a civil discussion will result in a resolution of the problem. However, sometimes the issue is more complex or the employer’s position remains the same.

3. When resolution of the conflict is not possible, you can file a complaint with your local labour office or seek the help of a legal advocate. If you decide to file a complaint on your own, you can get advice from the Ministry of Employement and Labor.

4. Filing a complaint yourself is relatively simple, but you may need the help of a Korean friend who can act as an informal interpreter since not all offices (even in areas where there are many foreign workers) have English-speaking staff. Also, you may be required to describe your complaint on the form in Korean. Some issues can be dealt with directly by the Labor Board, but others cannot. However, the Board will provide a recommendation to the local court, which is usually accepted by the court.

5. Filing a complaint with the help of a lawyer, is a little more expensive but can sometimes be more effective, especially if the case is complex. When looking for a lawyer, do try to find one who speaks English well enough to understand the nuances of your explanations. Although most do not, there are now labor lawyers who accept work on a combination of small retainer plus contingency – a system more familiar to many Western employees.

6. If you have had to leave the country before the situation has been resolved, especially if you believe you are owed money, you may still be able to file your complaint. Legal cases against non-Korean residents can be heard by the Korean courts as long as long as a separate document giving a power of attorney to a local lawyer is signed in advance and is notarised by a judge or a public servant working for the court in which the case will be heard. There are an increasing number of successful cases initiated for foreign workers after they have left the country. This legal right for non-residents is governed by the Korean constitution.
If you are concerned that because of banking practices at the time of your departure, you were unable to access money from your Korean bank account (if you haven’t closed it), not to worry. There are a number of ways in which the money can be sent to you – the settlement payment can be made to your lawyer, who will then send it to you or, in most instances, it can be wired to you directly.

Recap of Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) services.
Ministry of Labor Hotline: Call 1350 and press 7 for English, between 9AM and 6PM
Labor Law Counselling: Phone counseling service is available  Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 18:00.
For foreign Workers: 031-345-5000
For Foreign CEO's: 031-345-5200
MOEL International Cooperation Bureau for information on MOEL homepage and policies:
Tel: 02-2110-7436/7445   E-mail:

K4E Editor: tries to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and complete, so should you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please contact us at

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Last Updated on 2017-05-25

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