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 2018 and March 2019, around 80,000 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.
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 “Act”). Under the Act, employers are obliged to implement measures to prevent harassment at work, which is expected to be gradually enforced starting from April 2020.
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.
This newsletter will explain the most frequent types of harassment and what companies can do to mitigate the risk of harassment cases occurring at their company as well as how to react in the event a harassment claim is made.
a) Power Harassment
Power harassment is one of the most frequent types of harassment at work. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare defines power harassment as “any behavior that causes employees in the same workplace physical pain or emotional distress or worsen the working environment beyond an appropriate scope of business through the use of one’s dominant position, whether by means of relative work position, human relationship, expert knowledge, experience or otherwise”.
The term “dominant position” may also relate to human relationships in general, concerning certain expertise, skills or the power as a group. It is not limited to management or superior positions. Therefore, acts between co-workers or even by a subordinate towards his/her superior could actually constitute power harassment as well.
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