The Korea Herald


Workplace bullying over office dinners persists: study

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Dec. 18, 2023 - 17:59

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A civic group said Monday that it has received 48 complaints this year on abuse related to "hoesik," Korean work dinners that often accompany rounds of drinking.

Gabjil 119, a group seeking to raise awareness of workplace bullying in South Korea, shared details of the hoesik-related complaints, most of which were superiors forcing subordinates to participate by threatening to give low performance reviews if they were absent. The group said it verified the identities of those who submitted the complaints.

In one case, a department head forced employees to submit a certain amount of money for hoesik gatherings. A person who refused to do so or attend hoesik claimed it resulted in being reassigned to another department.

Some female workers reported cases of sexual harassment during hoesik. A female employee of a local company said that after hoesik, her boss suggested that they go for another round of drinks by themselves, during which he commented on her body and looks to her dismay.

While 30 of the 48 were about forced hoesik participation, the remaining 18 were accounts of being deliberately excluded from the work dinners.

One person claimed that his superior came up to him one morning and told him not to attend hoesik, even ones that he was already scheduled to attend.

Forcing people to attend hoesik is not only frowned upon, but could risk running afoul of Korean laws. South Korea's Labor Standard Act stipulates that workplace bullying can be punishable by up to three years in prison or 30 million won ($23,000) in fines.

While forced hoesik attendance is not specified in the law as a case of workplace bullying, the manual provided by the Ministry of Employment and Labor states that forcing a co-worker to drink or smoke is a form of bullying.

Past court rulings suggest that forced hoesik participation could be considered workplace bullying. In a 2007 ruling by the Seoul High Court, a department head of a Seoul-based company was ordered to pay compensation of 30 million won for forcing his female subordinate to drink, which led to her having medical issues.

While once considered an integral part of work, many people say it is a source of stress. Last week's survey by job-searching website Incruit on 873 employees across the country showed that 59.4 percent of the respondents said they were stressed out by hoesik.