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How to Deal With Workplace Harassment in Japan

Are you or a friend subject to workplace harassment in Japan? Although I have never experienced this, I found myself at a loss when it happened to a friend. Recently, I have seen many people seeking help in various support groups and on social media. So, I have decided to write this summary regarding power harassment in the workplace, focusing especially on your rights and the actions you can take.

Harassment Should Never Be Tolerated

Since April 2022, small and medium-sized companies must take measures to prevent power harassment. Power harassment is a form of harassment in which someone in a superior position uses their power to harass a person in a lower position. Here, the term“superior” does not only means in terms of hierarchical position but also “superior” in ability, experience, or even personality. Therefore, a worker can commit power harassment to his/her boss. (That is called“Gyaku Pawahara”(逆パワハラ) in Japanese, which means” reverse power harassment.”

Measures that should be taken by companies mainly include promoting awareness regarding power and moral harassment and building a reporting system for taking appropriate measures in case of a problem.

However, “Many companies still have not started establishing such measures, or even if they have, often they are not really working,” explains Seiji Muromoto, a lawyer at Legal Mission International. “If you show your employer that you are conscious of the latest laws and obligations, it might help them be more conscious of their harassment preventive measures.”

Your employer is responsible for ensuring a safe workplace environment for all employees and is liable for damages.

For more details, click here to read an English translation of the Act on Comprehensively Advancing Labor Measures, Stabilizing the Employment of Workers, and Enriching Workers’ Vocational Lives.

Are You a Victim of Workplace Harassment?

According to the Labor Consultation Center of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, you are a victim of power harassment if you experience some of the following:

  • Physical abuse: you are assaulted or injured
  • Mental abuse: you are intimidated, insulted, and talked to with abusive language (If you are unsure if what you are told is a matter of moral harassment, click here for a list of Japanese terms often used in power harassment.)
  • You are segregated from personal relationships, ostracized or neglected
  • You are assigned tasks that are obviously unnecessary or impossible to do
  • On the contrary, you are given low-level work that does not reflect your ability or experience or is given no work
  • Your privacy is invaded

Specific types of harassment target foreign workers. “Your employer might refuse to give you additional allowances or only give half of your paid vacation under the pretext that you are a foreign worker and it is a company rule,” says Seiji.

“Remember that you should never be mistreated at work just because you are not Japanese. When you face this kind of mistreatment, you don’t have to be able to quote the exact parts of the law. You just need to say: ‘I know foreign workers do have rights and are protected by labor-related laws in Japan. I should be treated as my Japanese colleagues are.’”

For more information about your rights as a worker in Japan, have a look at The Foreign Workers’ Handbook by the Labor Consultation Center.

What to Do if You Are Harassed at Your Workplace in Japan

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s 2008 Report on the Actual Conditions Concerning Power Harassment in the Workplace, 40.9% of power harassment victims said they “did nothing” regarding the matter. You might be afraid to take action, even more so as a foreign resident. However, for your own well-being, you should do the following:

  1. Document what was done to you.

If you have been a victim of what you think is power harassment, record what was done, when and where it happened, and for what purpose. Use a written memo or an audio recording if you can, as this will be useful for fact-checking later.

  1. If you can, talk to colleagues or managers who might support you. 
  1. Tell your company (for example, human resources) that you are a victim of harassment.

Please note that your case should be kept private, and your employer is prohibited from mistreating you because you reported power harassment. This is also true for other types of harassment, such as sexual harassment and harassment regarding pregnancy, being a parent, etc.

“You may be afraid of deepening the conflict,” says Seiji, “but the situation will not be solved and even might get worse if you do nothing. What is important is to show that you know your rights. Tell your company what your next step will be if they don’t improve: going to the Labor Bureau to seek help. Just remember, when you tell your boss, to stay calm and respectful.”

  1. Seek outside help.

If even after reporting, the situation does not improve, or if there is no one you can report to, you can go to the following places that will give you advice on the correct actions to take depending on your case.

Where to Seek Help

If you are reading this article and think you might be a victim of power harassment, you don’t have to fight this alone. The following services are here to help you.

  1. The Labor Bureau of your prefecture–in Japanese: “Rodo Koyo Kankyo Kinto Bu” (労働局雇用環境・均等部)

They can help you if you are a victim of workplace harassment, sexual harassment, pregnancy harassment, childbirth harassment, etc. They can also provide assistance in dispute resolution and conciliation through their Conciliation Council.

Click here for a list of the labor bureaus and their supported languages (bottom of the page).

  1. General Labor Consulting Center–in Japanese: “Sogo Rodo Sodan Center” (総合労働相談センター )

Specialized counselors provide in person or telephone consultation on all areas of labor issues. They also provide advice on individual labor disputes between workers and management and offer mediation services.

Click here for the phone numbers for telephone consultation services for foreign workers.

  1. The “Minna no Jinken Hyakutoban” Legal Bureau (みんなの人権110番(法務局))

This is phone number for consultation in Japanese on various human rights issues such as discrimination, abuse, power harassment, etc. Calls are connected to the Legal Affairs Bureau or District Legal Affairs Bureau nearest to the location of the call.

Click here for more information (Japanese language).

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.