Japanese firm sued for “paternity harassment”

The disgruntled employee says he was demoted and his pay was slashed following the birth of his son

Japanese firm sued for “paternity harassment”

Fathers of newborns in Japan rarely apply for a paternity leave after the birth of a child, but one father – a Canadian who has been working in Tokyo's finance sector for more than 20 years – has sued his employer for “paternity harassment.”

Glen Wood, 47, head of global sales for Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, said his employer demoted him and cut his pay after the birth of his son two years ago, The Star Online reported.

Suspended without pay since October 18, Wood has filed the case before the Tokyo District Court. He wants his old job and salary back.

In his court filing, Wood said his demotion had been unjust because the company's revenue in fact doubled between 2012 and 2015 as the base of its institutional investors grew. He had also consistently scored high in company appraisals.

Company policy said those applying for leave must produce a Japanese document – a maternity health record book – issued by a local municipality.

This was impossible for Wood to obtain, he said, as his then non-Japanese partner had been in a Nepali hospital.

Japanese law grants new fathers up to 52 weeks of paid paternity leave, but the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said that that only about 3% of new fathers availed themselves of that benefit, fully or partially, in 2016. The government wants to raise this number to 13% by 2020.

In the same year, and despite generous childcare leave benefits, the number of births recorded in Japan fell below one million. A study found that while most young fathers hoped to take their paternity leave, they do not do so because of peer pressure and fears that their colleagues would think unfavourably of them.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Wood said this entrenched mindset is amplified in monolithic, traditional Japanese corporations.

“In Japan, historically, when you join a company, you are a soldier. It's like a battle, but if you get sick or have a baby then you are gone," Wood said. "Large traditional corporations should not be allowed to operate above the law. If companies do not follow government policies, then they are useless, just a piece of paper."

But MUFJ told The Straits Times: “We actively support our employees in applying for childcare leave regardless of their gender or nationality."

Forty-two percent of new fathers who qualify for paternity leave applied last year – this year they are on course for 100%, said the company.

"We will never disadvantageously treat any employee's childcare leave application," the spokesman said. He added that the company is "sincerely working to resolve the issues surrounding Wood's lawsuit and his continued employment."

Japan ranked last among 11 Asian nations in terms of appeal for top foreign talent, said a report released last month. It was also ranked 51st out of 63 nations worldwide. Reasons cited were the language barrier and rigid business practices.


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