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Workplace Harassment

1. Introduction

Japanese working environments are traditionally characterized by authoritarian management styles with strict hierarchies. This opens the doorway to power games and harassment. In the recent past, more and more employees have put up resistance against harassing behaviors. Between April 2020 and March 2021, around 79,000 requests for help and counseling regarding various forms of bullying and harassment at workplaces have been administered by labor bureaus nationwide. For foreign invested-companies operating in Japan cultural and language-induced misunderstandings increase the risk of harassment claims.

Harassment in the workplace does not only lead to a loss in productivity due to anger, anxiety and loss of motivation but it may also result in litigation and loss of reputation. The latter is often in particular critical in a society which heavily builds up on trust and which is in talent shortage as Japan.

As a reaction to the increasing number of harassment claims, the Japanese diet adopted on 29 May 2019 an Amendment to the Act regarding Overall Promotion of Employment related Measures and Policies, Employment Stabilization and Fulfilling Occupational Life, Etc. (the “Anti-Harassment Act”). The Anti-Harassment Act requires employers to implement measures to prevent harassment at work. The specific measures to be taken, more guidance on the definition of the term “power harassment” and other details were separately set out in guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (the “Guidelines”). While the Anti-Harassment Act came already into effect on June 1, 2020 for large companies, there was a grace period for small and medium-sized companies which expires on March 31, 2022. From April 1, 2022, the Anti-Harassment Act will apply to all employers in Japan.

This newsletter will explain the most frequent types of harassment and the employment management measures companies should take to comply with the Anti-Harassment Act and to mitigate the risk of harassment cases occurring at their company. The newsletter will also outline how to react in the event a harassment claim is made.

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