On December 1, 2015, the Amended Industrial Safety and Health Act ("Amended Act") regarding stress checks came into force in Japan. Under the Amended Act, employers are required to conduct a stress check once a year on full-time employees and contract employees who will work or who have worked for the employer for one year or longer in workplaces staffed by 50 or more employees, with limited exceptions. In workplaces staffed by fewer than 50 employees, employers are obliged to make an effort to carry out a stress check, but there would be no liability for failing to do so. The major objectives of the Amended Act are to determine the degree of stress employees carry and prevent the development of serious mental disorders.

Under the Amended Act, employers must:  

  • Have medical professionals, such as doctors and public health nurses, examine employees to determine the degree of stress they are under;
  • Implement face-to-face guidance sessions with a doctor if requested to do so by employees who have been informed that they are under heavy stress and are subsequently suggested to participate in such sessions by the medical professionals who carried out the examination;
  • Not treat an employee unfavorably on the grounds that such employee requested a face-to-face guidance session; and
  • Take note of the opinions of the doctor who implemented face-to-face guidance sessions for an employee and take appropriate measures, such as changing tasks or shortening working hours, for such employee if necessary.

Employers may not be provided with the result of a stress check without the employee's consent. The results of a stress check must be given directly to employees by the medical professionals who carried out the examination.

That said, the Amended Act provides only the minimum obligations of employers toward employees' mental health. Employers may be required to take further actions to prevent the occurrence of employees' mental disorders, even though such actions are not detailed or required under the stress check procedures outlined above. When employers are made aware of information regarding an employee's declining mental health, they have a responsibility to take appropriate action to address such mental health issues.

The first test should be completed by November 30, 2016. Therefore, employers should move quickly to be ready to implement the stress check procedures outlined above.