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Unfair Firings: One Teacher’s Story, and What You Can Do if it Happens to You.

This piece was requested by after a recent unfair firing in which the teachers actually stuck around to take the process through the Labor Board. Too often, for various reasons, people who are fired late in their contract, often for suspicious reasons, decide to leave Korea rather than fight for their rights, which unfortunately leads the bad hogwan owners untouched, and ready to do it again to the next unsuspecting teacher. Often known as the “11-month firing”, as some owners prefer to save the severence and airfare they’re due to pay upon completion of a 12-month contract, if this happens to you, please consider taking the time to file with the Labor Board – they will help, and if the same owners show up again and again, perhap they can actually do something to protect other workers in the future. – Ed.

Special thanks to the author of this piece:

My Hagwon contract was supposed to be finished in November. How is it that I’m enjoying coconut milk from a coconut on a beach in Phuket, Thailand in mid October? No, it’s not Chuseok; I was fired from my Hagwon.

This article will hopefully give you some insight on what you can do if you were unfairly fired from your school. It is all too common for some schools to fire their foreign teachers for budget cuts, or ways to avoid paying the severance and flight bonus. If you’ve been fired, whatever the reason stated, there’s a chance that you’ve been fired unfairly.

I came to Ulsan in September of 2013 hoping to save for a Masters in Education, something I am currently working on. I was joined by my life partner and we thought we found the perfect school to grow with, and for me to work on my master classes with the guidance of a strong leader and director. After our first month working at the school, we rarely saw our director, even though we had a lot of questions. He was never around to give assistance like he said he would do, and after working for 8 months in the school, with no warning, he called us into a classroom.  Our director began to scold us for not teaching in the way he wanted us to. We were perplexed and asked him to explain and to tell us what he wanted. He talked to us in circles and concluded the meeting with these words “I must finish you contract”. I was crestfallen, my classes were starting soon and I was supposed to be teaching while enrolled.

We asked why we both had been terminated, and our director (and owner of the academy) said that we were “bad teachers”, but gave no specifics (this is a common 11-month firing tactic. You may also hear, “A mother complained”, again without any specifics. If there are specific reasons, consider the fact you may actually be a bad teacher, and this firing may be legitimate – Ed). This is when we started to ask other friends around us what we should do? Our boss had made up an arbitrary reason to get rid of us, so we had to get ready for what was next.

My partner and I asked a friend to help us translate our trouble to the labor board. The first advice I can give to anyone who feels they were unfairly fired is to find a translator and go to the labor board(see below for details on this –ed). I can tell you from experience, after our boss decided to fire us, the following month was hell. His wife verbally attacked me in the teacher office one evening. A few days later, he gathered all the teachers into his office to yell at the two of us in front of everyone, trying to get us to agree with his decision for him to keep our last month’s paycheck.

My second piece of advice is to not agree to anything and record everything. Take your phone into any meetings and record proof of your boss’ supposed claims. Be ready for anything, and I mean anything.  When we made our claim with the labor board, our former boss made a rebuttal saying I have dyslexia and am unfit to teach – something he had no problem with when he hired me, or for the first 8 months of work. We had to provide the labor board with medical information on dyslexia proving that it does not affect one’s ability to teach. We had to prove that every lie our former employer made was, in fact, a lie. Our former employer made up so many things about myself and my partner, and he even had current employees making up things about us as well. We were not protected by the slander laws as foreigners.

The best thing to do is to stay honest and to keep it to yourself. Do not say anything about your drama at the bars, and DO NOT put the school on the blacklist until you leave the country. Korea has INTENSE slander laws, so even if it’s true you may still get in trouble for it. Play all your cards very close and be very careful who you trust. People you once thought of as friends may turn on you in order to keep their own jobs.

If you want another job in Korea, get a release letter AS SOON as the firing happens. This will allow you to get another job at another school.

Once you leave the country, make sure to blacklist the school ANONYMOUSLY. Stand up for yourself; if you take your school to the labor board for firing you unfairly, the bad school owners and directors will learn that we are not their toys, we are real people and we deserve respect. As long as you are being a good employee, your school should be a respectful employer. When they are not being respectful, if someone crosses a line, stand up for yourself and do not be afraid.

At the Labor Board

The labor board is a big building on the main road in Okdong (the location is pinned on the Interactive Map, under Government – Ed) . We walked in with our translator and waited to speak with the next officer. When the officer and our translator spoke, our translator explained that we had been fired with no cause. The officer explained that to be fired in Korea from your School, public and private, you must receive three warning letters and a month’s notice to arrange for what is next in your life.You must also receive a release letter, in order to find work at a new school. Without the release letter you will not be able to work at a new school. We went to the labor board after every incident with our school, keeping our translator very busy. It’s important to report everything to the labor board officer.

After we made our initial claim, we had to return to the labor board office after our last day of work. We submitted our claim in full, and the officer then faxed our claim to the offices in Busan.

After our claim went to Busan everything became foggy. We moved out of the school-provided apartment and in with some friends. For a lot of the paper work we filled out, we needed an address and our friends generously provided us with that. The process took about two and a half months and we received a little less than a month and a half compensation. (This time frame, and the fact that most teachers are living in a school-provided apartment until they’re fired, is part of the reason why many people don’t bother sticking around to go through the Labor Board process – something the bad hogwan bosses rely on when unfairly firing foreign staff. It can be a tough decision to make, but to follow through not only helps yourself, but helps future teachers coming to Ulsan. Please consider this if this situation should happen to you – Ed).

We had been told that we would receive many different amounts of compensation at different times, but walking away with something was better than nothing at this point. Our school put up a dirty fight, our former employer lied on official paper work, saying awful and untrue things about myself and my partner. This, unfortunately, made an impact with the Busan Labor Board. My partner and I had to prove all our former employers claims were indeed lies. This became such a nightmare and a financial drain that we were really hoping to make an out-of-court settlement as much as we wanted to make a public trial.

We could have ruined our former employer, we could have destroyed the school’s reputation with a public trial, but we didn’t, we took the settlement of a little less than a month and a half pay each, and went on our way. After the dust cleared and we had received our settlement, our former employer asked if we could come in and sign a document saying that we would not black list the school. Upon hearing this news from our translator we declined. Our translator urged us to consider the generosity of our former employer in his settlement, but the nightmare of working at that school was too real and too harsh for us to hide the truth. I feel it is my duty to black list this school in order to help future English teachers coming to Korea. We signed no paper and went on our way, never to return to Korea.

If you have any questions, please contact me, I’m offering this article to help and my email is here (greenteathug /at/ if you need advice or have any questions. Be safe globe trotters!