By: Lee Kyung-min

Service-sector workers who suffer from depression or adjustment disorder will be recognized as victims of industrial accidents, the Ministry of Employment and Labor said Monday.

The ministry plans to revise related laws to give more protection to employees in service jobs who often experience stress from abusive customers.

According to the revision, depression and adjustment disorder will be included in the types of mental distress eligible for compensation from an industrial accident. At present, only post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is recognized.

The new rule is expected to help people in the service sector ― including telemarketers, sales people and flight attendants ― who suffer emotional distress from their working environment where they encounter abusive language or even physical violence from angry customers.

“Depression is one of the most common forms of illness among workers in the service sector,” said a ministry official. “Under the revision, workers with depression will all be covered.”

The new rule will also make about 110,000 people newly eligible for compensation, including chauffeurs and credit card marketers.

The measures come amid mounting concern about worsening working conditions in the sector.

According to a recent Korean Finance and Service Workers’ Union survey of 1,118 call center employees, more than 80 percent said they suffered chronic long-term depression because of repeated abuse from customers.

Their symptoms include migraines, nausea, insomnia, weight loss and fatigue. Most said they paid pay for their own medication if necessary.

There have been several cases in which high-handed customers have abused shop employees.

On Oct. 10, two employees at jewelry manufacturer Swarovski‘s shop in the Shinsegae Department Store in Incheon knelt in front of a woman who asked for free repairs to her mother’s necklace and bracelet.

In a 90-second video clip recorded by another customer, the woman shouts at the employees, who refused to have the items repaired for free, because the customer did not have her warranty with her and because the items were bought about seven years ago, and so the period for free repairs had expired.

The woman complained strongly, saying her mother felt humiliated.

The employees then decided to kneel in order to appease her.