Thursday, July 16, 2009

Medical Clauses and Privacy for E2 Visa Holders in South Korea

Here's the question:

There is a Physical and Mental Health Clause in my teaching contract. Is it legal in Korea to refuse/terminate employment for medical reasons? Does medical privacy exist? If I go to a doctor will he/she report my results to my employer?

The health clause in your contract is totally normal. Everyone who applies for the E2 visa is subject to a health check upon arrival in the country. Within your first couple of weeks and before being issued your Alien Registration Card (which legally must be done within 90 days of arrival), you have to go to a government-approved hospital (your school should tell you where it is) and take the tests. That is all totally standard for E2 to holders go through. It's a pain, but you gotta do it.

In some cases, it is legal to refuse/terminate employment for medical reasons as well. First of all, let's take a look at what the Physical and Mental Health clause in a standard contract is saying. Of course, each contract is going to contain some different wording. The E2 Applicant’s Health Statement for Immigration asks five medical questions:

* Have you ever caught infectious diseases that threaten Public Health before?
* Have you ever taken any Narcotic (Drug) OR Have you ever been addicted to alcohol?
* Have you ever received treatment for Mental/ Neurotic/ Emotional Disorder?
* Are OR were you HIV (AIDS) positive?
* Have you had any serious Diseases OR Injuries for the last 5 years?

Essentially, you will be tested for narcotics and contagious diseases. If you fail the drug test or happen to carry a contagious disease, then it is the responsibility of the hospital to report that to Immigration which ultimately will effect your stay (visa cancellation or deportation). So, in regards to your preliminary tests, then no, there is no privacy. You're doing that in order to register as an alien.

Now, if you were to go to a hospital AFTER completing all the preliminary testing, then it's a slightly different ball game. In most cases, the doctor will not report private medical conditions, so long as they aren't contagious, dangerous, deadly, or a result of illegal activities. So in other words, if you're experiencing a burning sensation when urinating and head to the doctor out of fear that your blurry night on Hooker Hill might have caught up to you, only to discover that burning was a big bag of herpes, then the doctor won't be too thrilled if he knows you're teaching kids. It might not get you sent home, but the big players in the Korean media like to report about how ESL teachers are walking buckets of AIDS and sex-hungry pedophiles, so an STD could set off his paranoia siren and result in a telephone call to your school. Like many things in Korea, it depends on the individual in charge of your case. I will say that if you go in for a blood test and for one reason or another, drugs are detected in your system, you will be going home. Not only is it illegal to possess and sell drugs in Korea, but use (even including while you were out of the country) of any kind will most likely result in deportation. So, don't be dumb. Play it safe in the bedroom (or brothel couch) and don't use drugs during your stay in Korea.

However, if your disease, illness or infection does not pose any direct threat to anyone and it doesn't blatantly violate any of the five questions on your health statement (see above), then you should be fine. It really depends on your doctor and/or school. If you work in a small hagwon and get a really bad case of pneumonia, well then your school will know anyways and whether or not they tolerate an extended absence or not is up to them. If you are having problems with insomnia, maybe a little bout with depression, have an ulcer or something that has nothing to do with your job or stay in Korea, then of course, the doctor will not mention anything.

In the end, the medical clause is meant as a protection for Korean people and students. Even though some may argue that its drafting and implementation equates to a witch hunt, the goal is to have healthy teachers and there's nothing wrong with that. Your illnesses or conditions will not be reveled unless they are a direct threat to Korean citizens. The only problem with this logic is that who defines "direct threat". That is the gray area. If you were to get an illness or disease which you thought wasn't serious enough to return home, but might raise some red flags at your local clinic, then head to Itaewon (or any area accustomed to foreign patients) and visit an English-speaking doctor (or one who is used to foreigners) who has likely seen it all. They'll be more open-minded for sure.

Anyone have a story to share?


Mike said...

"A big bag of herpes".

That's probably the most quotable thing you've ever said. And you've said a lot.

Anonymous said...

Here's another clause in my contract that annoys me:

"I fully and forever release, waive, and discharge, and covenant not to sue XXXXXXX.....from any cause whatsoever.....directly or indirectly arising in connection with my participation in employment...."

So it sounds likes no matter what, even if my employer is negligent and is breaking the law themselves, I can't sue them if I'm harmed by any of their actions.

Anonymous said...

So unlike in the U.S., if I got some "disease" my doctor would report it to my employer if they thought I was a threat because they don't trust foreigners enough to self-regulate their health status. This irritates me.

Hypothetically, say I was infected with HIV after arriving in Korea; I feel it should not be anyone's business but my own. Teachers don't engage in physical interaction that can contract HIV. You can't give it to someone through talking, shaking hands, hugs, sharing a carton of milk.

If I were an Ultimate Fighter, okay, I would understand, but the only situation I see that it would be okay to reveal medical information was if they discovered a "murder" gene that guarantees that the carrier of such gene will murder someone.

This all reminds me of how fear-induced US society was about AIDS back in the early-mid 80s.

And sure, there will be people who say, "if you don't like it, then don't come to Korea," much like how rednecks used to say that about US citizens who hated living under the Bush administration. That's a lazy/fascist mentality.

If you don't like something, question it, fight against it, talk about it.

"People Shouldn't Be Afraid of Their Government, Governments Should Be Afraid of Their People."

Anonymous said...

go to a doctor that is no where near your school and dont tell the doctors office where you work!

Unknown said...

Hi what if they find a diease that isn't contagious or drug related. But a personal disease like heart disease or cancer from my xray or blood sample that wasn't previously known about. Would they notify the school and would u be refused your job.

Unknown said...

Or what if u get checked out before going to korea and u find out u have a illness that isn't contagious or drug related ?

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