The Labor Ministry will enforce a maximum six-month grace period for a shorter workweek system set to be implemented next month.
The measure is to help give businesses time to prepare for the introduction of the new 52-hour workweek, but labor circles are strongly protesting the move.
The government will exempt violators from punishment during the grace period to help minimize the impact of the shorter workweek.
Under current regulations, labor inspectors can grant a weeklong period for establishments that are violating work hour rules to resolve the issue. If the business owner files a request, the period can be extended by seven more days.
Thus the maximum 14 days allowed at present will be increased to six months.
Moreover, the Labor Ministry is considering changing the seven-day correction period to three months.
Employers violating maximum work hours are subject to a prison term of up to two years or fines of up to 20 million won.
The shorter workweek was one of President Moon Jae-in's election pledges aimed at improving the Korean people's work-life balance.
Under revised laws, companies with 300 or more employees and public agencies are obligated to reduce maximum working hours to 52 hours per week, from the current 68 hours, starting July first.
Smaller businesses will be allowed to introduce the rule in phases.
Ahead of the implementation, the Labor Ministry put forward guidelines to help firms adjust but confusion persisted. This is because reducing work hours is not only about the actual hours but is a complex task that also involves changing employment practices and work culture.
The ruling party, government and the presidential office eventually accepted the Korea Employers Federation’s request and introduced the grace period to enable a soft landing of the new rule.
However, labor circles strongly protest the move and blame the ministry for its ambiguous standards which they say escalated the conflict.