Following substantive changes to the law on overtime and working hours which came into force on 1 April 2019, the National Diet has passed further legislation to combat harassment in the workplace. Power harassment (or "pawahara") is the main target of this latest round of amendments.

Legislative Changes

To address concerns about the work culture in Japan, on 29 May 2019, the National Diet introduced legislative changes to tackle workplace harassment. These changes are scheduled to come into force in April 2020 for large corporations and in April 2022 for small and medium enterprises.

The legislation defines power harassment as "verbal or physical behaviour that goes beyond the business necessity and that takes advantage of superior positions in a relationship, harming the workplace environment".

Employers are now compelled to take strict action and preventative measures against power harassment, including implementing consultation systems and presenting clear examples of power harassment to all employees. Employers are also prohibited from dismissing employees who report cases of harassment, or treating such employees unfavourably in any other way for reporting such cases.

Guidance from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW)

The MHLW has provided 6 (non-exhaustive) examples of power harassment:

(a) physical abuse,

(b) mental or emotional abuse,

(c) deliberate isolation of the employee in the workplace,

(d) overwork of the employee,

(e) providing an employee with work that is far below their skill level, and

(f) infringement of the privacy of an employee by asking personal questions irrelevant to business purposes.

Combatting Workplace Harassment

The new rules are intended to ensure that employers continue to focus on combatting harassment in the workplace. In practice, courts in Japan often deal with cases of harassment as personal injury claims under the Japanese Civil Code.

Although no new punitive measures have been introduced by the changes, the MHLW has indicated that it may issue administrative notices to companies who fail to comply with these new requirements, and any company who fails to comply following such notice may be publicly reprimanded.

Key Takeaways

Following an increase in deaths in the workplace by overwork (known in Japan as "karoshi") in recent years, employment practices in Japan have been subject to keen scrutiny. These legislative changes dealing with workplace harassment are in line with the larger effort to create healthier.