Bullying and harassment cases on the rise in Japan

'It is essential to start an investigation as soon as possible to confirm the facts,' says expert

Bullying and harassment cases on the rise in Japan

A report released by the government in Japan recently revealed the most common type of dispute between workers and employers is bullying and harassment – and that cases of this are rising.

In the report by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the number of labour cases received by the Labour Standards Inspection Offices and other government consultation offices exceeded one million for the 15th consecutive year. Of these, 70,000 were in relation to bullying and harassment.

“Bullying and harassment harms the dignity and character of individuals and is unacceptable,” says Shohei Yamaguchi, lawyer at TMI Associates.

“Employers are obliged to take necessary measures in terms of employment management to give advice to workers and cope with problems of workers, and take other necessary measures so that workers do not suffer any harm due to so-called sexual harassment, power harassment and maternity harassment,” he says.

Maternity harassment is when women are targeted for taking time off before and after giving birth.

“The Labour Contract Act requires employers to take necessary care so that employees can work while ensuring the safety of their lives and bodies,” says Yamaguchi.

“Therefore it is a legal obligation to establish the necessary systems and take appropriate measures to deal with bullying and harassment.”

Guidelines for dealing with harassment cases

Recommendations have been issued by the government to assist organisations in dealing with cases that arise.

“In September last year, the Japanese government formulated the ‘Guildelines for Respecting Human Rights in Responsible Supply Chains,’” says Yamaguchi. Despite this, he adds, “The problem of bullying and harassment within companies is the most familiar human rights issue that companies face and should address.”

It’s not necessarily difficult to establish the systems for dealing with bullying and harassment, he says. “The government has provided specific details of the necessary systems. The fact that the number of consultations regarding bullying and harassment is the highest indicates that employers have not been able to address the issue adequately.”

Yamaguchi advises HR leaders the best way of dealing with any cases is to act swiftly.

“It is essential that an investigation be initiated immediately to ascertain the facts,” he says. “In addition to that, employers should respond appropriately, such as disciplinary action, based on the facts discovered.

“In court cases, when an employer fails to investigate a case of bullying or harassment and does nothing about the problem, it’s considered to be a breach of duty and or a tort against the employee.”

Appropriate responses to bullying and harassment

Based on the fact that 70,000 consultations a year are conducted on the matter, Yamaguchi says it’s hard to say the problem is being dealt with adequately by employers.

“It seems many companies are not able to respond appropriately when specific incidents occur.”

Yamaguchi stresses that dealing with bullying and harassment is based mainly on key steps, the first of which is awareness. He says a company has an obligation to ‘establish a system to respond to consultations and respond appropriately to inquiries’ from employees. Since cases are difficult for companies to recognise, it’s very important, he says, to establish the correct system so that companies are aware of cases as early as possible.

After awareness comes investigation, says Yamaguchi, whereby the company has an obligation to take prompt and appropriate action in the event of bullying or harassment.

“It is essential to start an investigation as soon as possible to confirm the facts,” he says. If a person neglects to investigate, it may be judged as a breach of the duty of safety consideration to the employee.

Also vital to any claim is that the organisation is obliged to protect the privacy of the worker who brings the case, he says. “It’s necessary to take the utmost care not to reveal to the respondent who consulted the company about the case.”

If it is determined that a bullying or harassment incident has occurred, it is essential the organisation promptly addresses and improves the situation, says Yamaguchi.

 “From the perspective of creating a workplace where employees can work with peace of mind, one-time responses such as disciplinary action against offenders are not always sufficient and it is important to take measures to prevent recurrence and to continuously check whether recurrence prevention measures are functioning.”  

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