Japan: Anti-Power Harassment Law Passed

By © Herbert Smith Freehills LLP September 6, 2019

​Following substantive changes to the law on overtime and working hours that came into effect on April 1, Japan's National Diet has passed 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 May 29, the National Diet introduced legislative changes to tackle workplace harassment. These changes are scheduled to come into effect in April 2020 for large corporations and in April 2022 for small and medium enterprises.

The legislation defines power harassment as "verbal or physical behavior 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 unfavorably in any other way for reporting such cases.

Guidance from the MHLW

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) has provided six nonexhaustive examples of power harassment:

  • Physical abuse.
  • Mental or emotional abuse.
  • Deliberate isolation of the employee in the workplace.
  • Overwork of the employee.
  • Providing an employee with work that is far below their skill level.
  • 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 that fail to comply with these new requirements, and any company that 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 workplaces.

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP is a leading global legal services firm with 27 offices worldwide, including offices in Seoul, South Korea. © 2019 Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.



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