Japan workplace bullying rules feared to spur necktied menaces

Linda J. Dodson

TOKYO — Regulations to protect workers in Japan from abusive bosses and colleagues took effect Monday to criticism that it only provides a road map to desk-bound bullies.

Large companies now must combat so-called power harassment — which includes such acts as striking an employee with one’s bare hands or an object, according to the labor ministry. But an accidental collision does not count.

Critics say the overprecise cases provided by the ministry will only allow abusive colleagues at the office to evade responsibility by basing their defenses on the counterexamples, eroding the effectiveness of the regulations.

“It was not appropriate to list examples that are not applicable,” said Naoto Sasayama, a Tokyo-based attorney.

Large companies are now legally required to have strict policies against workplace bullying. They must train employees and have a contact point for reporting cases of abuse. Companies allowing egregious abuse to occur will have their names made public by the government.

Small and midsize businesses must make efforts toward prevention through March 2022. Afterward, the rules will fully apply to them as well.

Companies have been busy rolling out anti-harassment measures. Mitsubishi Electric drew up its own plans in January after a new employee died by suicide from overwork. The company set up a consultation center where people can talk to outside experts. Managers from section chiefs on up underwent training.

Executives at ANA Holdings unit All Nippon Airways have received online training since May. This month, Japan Post Holdings unit Japan Post will encourage reporting by displaying contact information at the nation’s 24,000 or so post offices.

Reported bullying and harassment cases reached a new record of roughly 82,000 in fiscal 2018, according to the labor ministry. There are concerns that the coronavirus-induced economic stagnation will fuel more abuse.

“When business becomes harsh, harassment tends to be directed toward individuals with weak positions,” Sasayama said.

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