Definition of “Ordinary Wage” in Korea: Korean Employment & Labor Law Basics

The courts of the Republic of Korea, for years, has struggled to find a consistent interpretation of an “Ordinary Wage.”  The definition of Ordinary Wage, under Korean Law, was clarified by the Korean Supreme Court in two decisions handed down on December 18, 2013.  The calculation of Ordinary Wages is important, since it is utilized to calculate statutory entitlements, and thus has an impact on the aggregate amount of contributions necessary to be paid to employees. For example, according to Article 56 of the Korean Labor Standards Act, an employer must pay 50% of the Ordinary Wage plus the Ordinary Wage for overtime, night and weekend work performed by the employee. Because of the potential for a large unknown future liability, this issue became the most significant issue, in the last few years, among domestic and foreign employers in labor and employment law in Korea. The basic Korean test is

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Korean Data Privacy Act: Need for Compliance Audit for your Korean Company

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR) focuses on the data security of personal data of users of the internet. As the EU offers a potentially lucrative market for online businesses for many Korean companies, South Korea was eager to amend its existing Act on the Promotion of IT Network Use and Information Protection of Korea (“Korean Network Act”) based, at least, partially on bench-marking of the EU GDPR. We suggest all companies, doing business in Korea, conduct via a professional in data privacy – a compliance audit. We suggest the professional has an understanding of not, only, Korean Law, but the law of the European Union as it relates to data privacy. Fines and criminal penalties for violation of data privacy laws have increased in Korea. Korean Network ActThe Korean Network Act was amended in December of 2018. Korea, the EU and other nations are in ongoing

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Terminate/Layoff an Employee in Korea: Terminating an Employee in Korea

The Korean Labor Standards Act mandates that employees under “contract” or “regular employees” may only be terminated for “justifiable reason attributable” to the employee or “urgent managerial necessity” after the completion of the employee’s probationary period. Both Korean employment law standards are, often, difficult for an employer to meet without the professional structuring of HR policies and procedures and a nuanced approach to termination of employees in Korea. We strongly recommend, prior to even considering firing or laying off Korean workers, to put a system of internal controls/systems in place that provides evidence to substantiate Korean employment terminations decisions.  We see too many companies in Korea that lack the systems necessary to substantiate termination.  Modest changes can, often, be refreshing for managers. FYI – Company executives/directors are, normally, not considered company “employees” and thus are not benefited by most of the protections afforded by the Korean Labor Standards Act.  However,

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Release of an Arrested Vessel in Korea: Maritime Liens in Korea

We wrote an article about the Arrest of Vessels in Korean waters in a post last week.  The article is a useful guide for those considering arresting a ship in Korean waters.  The post may be found at: Arrest/Attachment of Vessels in Korean Waters: Maritime Liens for Creditors in Korea. This post describes how you may obtain the release of a vessel arrested in Korea waters.  The Korean Courts have put in place an efficient post-arrest procedure that, often, quickly allows the release of an arrested ship. Post-Arrest Procedures in Korea for Ships Arrested in Korean Waters In the post-arrest procedures in Korea, the burden is on the arresting party to establish that the order of arrest, initially granted, should not be vacated.   These hearings are often a tool to persuade a judge that the arresting party should post a security or the security should be increased.  In all but

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Arrest/Attachment of Ships at Korean Ports: Maritime Liens in Korea

The arrest of vessels/ships in Korea is a common tool to satisfy judgements against debtors.  Korean courts allow the ex-parte arrest of ships.  The court, normally, does not request from the Korean counsel of the creditor/claimant evidence of how long the ship will remain in Korean waters, as is, sometimes, the case in other neighboring jurisdictions. We find Korea to be a much easier destination for arresting vehicles than many other Asian nations, because of the efficiency focus of the Korean court system and the less than efficient other Asian jurisdictions.  Typically, the arrest action will take a few days to complete. The major ports in Korea that an arrest may be executed at are: Busan ,Jinhae, Incheon, Gunsan, Masan, Mokpo, Pohang, Donghae, Ulsan, Yeosu, and Jeju. ARREST OF FOREIGN VESSEL IN KOREAN WATERS There are two different ways to arrest a vessel in Korean waters. 1.  Preliminary Attachment The

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Korean Patent Law’s Trade Secret Protection: Amendment to Trade Secret Law in Korea

The amended Patent Act of Korea (“Korean Patent Act”) and the amended Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act (“Korean Trade Secret Protection Act”) of Korea shall enter into force on July 9, 2019. The most important key developments are great criminal penalties for trade secret misappropriations; damage awards up to three times of the actual damage regarding infringements of patent rights or trade secret rights; eased litigation requirements for the claimants; and revised basis for calculating royalty damages. These amendments are expected to lead to a heightened protection for intellectual property rights in Korea. The 2019 Major Key Changes in the Korean Patent Act and the Korean Trade Secret Protection Act: Increased Criminal Penalties under the Korean Trade Secret Protection Act Under the current regulations, a criminal penalty for a trade secret misappropriation is narrowly defined and considered by many legal practitioners and academics as not protective enough

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Amendment to Korea’s Occupational Safety and Health Act in 2019

The amended Occupational Safety and Health Act of Korea (hereinafter as “OSHA”) entered into force on January 15, 2019. One major aspect of the revision is that it has raised the risk of liability of representatives of institutions and companies and companies for workplace industries in Korea. The amended Korean OSHA law is expected to increase the risk to company management, increase liability of companies and increase options for employees that are perceived to have been harmed because of the actions or inaction of employers. Korean OSHA Basics Importer or Manufacturer of harmful and/or dangerous chemicals should draft a Material Safety Data Sheet and send it to the Ministry of Employment & Labor for approval. The Material Safety Sheet is publicly published – in most cases. Hazardous work shall not be contracted out by companies to third parties. However the amendment provides some notable exceptions (beyond the scope of this

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Safety Measures in Korean School Buses in Korea via the Amended Road Traffic Act of Korea

The Amendment to the Korean Road Traffic Act (hereinafter as “ Korean RTA”) is in force since March 2019 and shall generally increase the safety for children in school buses in Korea. The Amendment was a reaction to an accident that occurred with in school buses, including children, which got physically harmed or even died. An infamous incident involved a young child that left unattended in a bus and died because of, among other things, heat exhaustion. Korean RTA drastically changed, the following brief snippet is, only, the tip of the iceberg. If you are running a business that transports children, we, highly, recommend having your law firm in Korea walk you through this law. Two Highlights of the Amendment to the Korean Road Traffic Act 2019 “A driver of a school bus for children shall operate a device that verifies that the discharge of children from the bus has

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Licensee has Standing to Challenge the Validity of a Patent in Korea. Korean Licensing & Royalty Law Updates

Prior to a recent holding by the Supreme Court of Korea, the Korean Supreme Court had conflicting holdings on the definition of an “interested party” under Korean Patent Law. In order for a party to challenge the validity of a patent, in Korea, a party challenging the patent must be an “interested party.” Until this year, it was not clear whether a licensee of the patent in question is an “interested party” with standing to challenge the patent in Korea. A recent holding by the Supreme Court shall, likely, lead to substantially increased risk of non-payment of royalty payments and litigation in Korean courts. We, thus, suggest all that are receiving, or are expected to receive, royalty payments from Korean companies to have a comprehensive review of your patents and licensing agreements. A good deal of the risk can be mitigated by a nuanced license agreement and a Korean-tailored patent.

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Material Breach of Korean Contracts Under Korean Law: Primary Obligations vs. Secondary Obligations in Korea Courts

In most Western nations a “material” breach of a contract leads to the non-breaching party not having to perform its obligations under the contract, while allowing the non-breaching party to immediately sue for all damages (or performance).The Restatement (Second) of Contracts 241 notes that the following criteria can be used to determine whether a specific action/inaction constitutes a material breach: “In determining whether a failure to render or to offer performance is material, the following circumstances are significant: (a) the extent to which the injured party will be deprived of the benefit which he reasonably expected; (b) the extent to which the injured party can be adequately compensated for the part of that benefit of which he will be deprived; (c) the extent to which the party failing to perform or to offer to perform will suffer forfeiture; (d) the likelihood that the party failing to perform or to offer

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Korean Medical Malpractice Law and the Medical Malpractice Arbitration System: Suing a doctor in Korea

So you want to sue your Korean doctor in a Korean court?  IPG has handled numerous medical malpractice matters for plaintiffs and defendants of medical malpractice cases in Korea in Korean courts and we were, prior, to having knowledge of the composition of the new Korean Medical Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Agency – were very pessimistic about its usefulness for plaintiffs. When we first heard about the enactment of the new Korean Medical Malpractice Law we were skeptical if the system would be useful for plaintiffs, since, often, the court and prosecutors are able to assert more pressure on doctors than this type commission and we were worried that this agency would be dominated by doctors. However, after a discussion with one of the standing commissioners of the Korean Medical Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Agency, who we know well and who we worked with in the past, we have come to

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Antitrust/Competition Consent Orders in Korea

in 2011, the Korean National Assembly passed, along with the Korea-U.S. FTA and related bills, a law that  allows the Fair Trade Commission of Korea (KFTC) to accept consent orders.  A consent order is similar, in many respects, to a nolo contendere plea. The consent order process has allowed the KFTC to punish without the admission of guilt to the company. This has lead to a decrease, in recent years, of a burden on the KFTC, more efficient enforcement proceedings, and has sped up many M & A deals – while allowing companies doing business in Korea to more adequately gauge the risk of a certain actions by the company. The disposition is similar, in a criminal matter, to a nolo contendere (no contest).  In short, the accused accepts the proposed punishment, however, doesn’t admit guilt. Thus, the company may save a little face and time, while the government is

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Fiduciary Duties of Korean Directors/Representative & Controlling Shareholders of Korean Companies

Directors of companies, registered in Korea, many be held criminally and civilly liable for acts as a director (in limited cases even controlling shareholder can be held criminally liable).  Many acts (or inactions) that would not be deemed criminal in the West are, often, deemed criminal in Korea.  Additionally, matters that are considered in the West as mere “civil” matters, often, begin and end at the Korean prosecutor’s office. A little due diligence, complying with corporate formalities, nuanced corporate governance practices and a little street smarts coupled with good liability insurance is a good start in succeeding in business in Korea. We have been on both sides of matters were directors (and even controlling shareholders) have been prohibited from departing Korea, jailed and fined.  In most cases, liability is unlimited and it is presumed that a director has complied with the decision of the Board of Directors if no dissent

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Is your Korean Employee a Dispatched Worker and Thus a De Facto “Employee” under the Korean Labor Standards Act?

In 2015, the Korean Supreme Court detailed standards in determining if a Subcontracted Worker in Korea is actually a Dispatched Worker and, thus, a de facto employee of your Korean Company.  The designation has implications for retirement benefits, employment security and the payment of benefits. Dispatched Workers vs. Subcontracted Workers Companies employ, in Korea, often workers via manpower supply companies and via subcontracting agreements.  These employees are not retained directly by the Company, but are retained via a manpower company (“Dispatched Worker”) or a subcontracting agreement (“Subcontracted Worker”). The difference in these two type of relationships lies in the control over the workers – not in the mere nature of the retention according to the Korean Courts.  If the Company has a sufficient degree of control over the worker, in the eyes of the specific Korean court, the worker is deemed a Dispatched Worker and, thus, an employee of the

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Liquidated Damages v. Penalties in Korean contracts

As an American attorney, it’s a bit strange for me to read a Korean contract and see how the word “penalty” is used.  In the United States (as well as other common law jurisdictions), when a contract contains a “penalty,” the clause is invalidated. Korea, however, allows some “penalties” in contracts. Cutting to the chase, this is merely an issue of confusing and overlapping terminology.  But since its confusing, its worth explaining. To start with, a bit of background on liquidated damages.  Liquidated damages refer to damages, the amount of which, the parties designate during formation of a contract as compensation for non-breaching parties in the event of breach.   In the US and other common law jurisdictions, liquidated damages clauses are invalidated if the purpose is to punish the breaching party, rather than to compensate the injured party.  These clauses are referred to by the court as “penalties.” Now, contrary

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Enforcing Punitive & Liquidated Damages Awards against Korean Companies via Contracts with Foreign Subsidiaries of Korean Companies

A recent amendment of the Korean Civil Procedure Act added Article 217-2.  The Amendment has codified a holding by the Seoul Central District Court and other Korean courts noting, in part, that Korean Courts may refuse to “recognize foreign damage awards that clearly exceed amounts considered reasonable in Korea in violation of good morals and the social order of Korea” (99 KaHap 14496, S. Cent. Distr. Court, 10/20/2000). The Amendment allows Korean Courts, in Korea, the power to not recognize a damage award that the Korean Court’s perceives as “excessive.”  This standard-less “standard” leaves much wiggle room for Korean Courts. A typical situation is a case where an American importer sues a Korean conglomerate in a U.S. Court and damages are awarded to the U.S. company.  The damages may include liquidated, punitive and non-“actual” damages.  The American importer, then, attempts to enforce the judgment in Korea. There is a simple

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Injunctions Against your Former Franchisee for Competing Against your New Franchisee: Korean Franchise Law/Injunction Basics

Under the Fair Franchise Transactions Act of Korea (“Franchise Act”), a franchisee has the right, under Korean Law, to request the renewal of a Korean franchise agreement after ten years of successful operation of a franchise.  The Korean Franchise Act Article 13 (2) stipulates that: “A franchisee’s right to request the renewal of the franchise agreement may be exercised only when the total period of the franchise agreement, including its initial period, does not exceed ten years.” We wrote about termination of a franchise in other articles including: Termination of a Franchise in Korea. Courts in Korea are becoming increasingly apprehensive to enforce injunctions against operating of competing businesses filed by franchisors against franchisees.  The situation, often, occurs where a franchise is terminated and the franchisee operates a like business in the same location as the prior franchise.   Of course, all professionally drafted franchise agreements in Korea will have

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Involuntary Dissolution of a Company in Korea: Shareholder Disputes in Korean Companies

Under Article 520 of the Korean Commercial Act, a minority shareholder, holding at least 10 percent of the total and outstanding shares of a Korean company, may request to the Korean court of competent jurisdiction the dissolution of a company in Korea.  Korean court judges consider this procedure an extraordinary procedure and, only, rule in the affirmative, usually, after all other avenues to resolve the shareholder dispute have failed. However, this procedure is useful, in many disputes, in resolution of the shareholder dispute via litigation or pushing the defaulting shareholder into a settlement. Article 520 of the Commercial Act of Korea (Judgments for Dissolution) “(1) If, in any of the following cases, there exists unavoidable reasons, any shareholder who holds shares representing no less than 10 percent of the total issued and outstanding shares may request a court to dissolve the company; When the company’s business operation continues to be

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Korean Independent Contractor Risks: Korean Labor Standards Act Basics

The Korean Court System has been less reluctant, in recent years, to deem a Korean independent contractor an “employee” under the Labor Standards Act (LSA).  This fact remains true even when an employer establishes that the independent contractor is aware that he/she was contracted as an independent contractor, thus, not a regular employee of the Korean company. Upon the establishment of the status as “employee” in Korea, the individual is entitled to all of the benefits of an employee including, inter alia, severance and employment security, thus, increasing the compliance, tax, payroll and other risks to the foreign-capital invested Korean company. Obligations to Employees under the LSA The obligations to employees under the LSA are extensive and beyond the scope of this short article.  The more significant and obvious are the Korean legal requirement to provide severance benefits and employment security. With regard to severance benefits, a company must pay,

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Can you Succeed in Korea without Resorting to Bribery?

Perhaps in a few warped ways, I have a bit of affection for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American companies from bribing officials overseas. From a nostalgic perspective, I recall when this act was made into law while I was at my first “real job” at The Chase Manhattan Bank in Seoul. The immediate reactions around me in the US business community were those of dread. We were certain that we would be put to disadvantage when competing with the locals as well as with other foreign nationalities. It turned out not to be the case. In fact, by and large we discovered the act gave us legitimate cover not to “go local” in conducting unethical and potentially sordid business practices. In time, other Western nations passed similar laws. While this clean business movement has hardly eradicated corruption, it has contributed to reducing unethical business behavior – most

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