Two controversial cases spotlights paternity leave issues in Japan

  • Two lawsuits are putting the spotlight on the issues on Japan’s Paternity leave
  • The workers alleged receive harassment, demotions, and decrease in pay upon returning to work after coming back from their respective paternity leaves
  • Japan is considered as one of the countries who has the best laws regarding paternity leave

TOKYO, JAPAN – Two landmark lawsuits have highlighted the major issues Japan’s highly-gendered work culture has regarding its employees taking paternity leaves. 

The lawsuits are highly unusual in Japan, and it forcibly opens up a discourse in the country about longstanding cultural norms and company expectations. These cases are among the first to tackle the issue of paternity harassment in Japan.

A baby reading club in Tokyo.
Via Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

It is still a cultural norm in Japan for women to still assume responsibility for the vast majority of child care while the responsibility of the men to work for the family. Hence, men are expected to show extreme loyalty to their employers at the expense of their families.

One of the cases mentions a 38-year-old who filed against his employer for the alleged harassment he received after choosing to take his paternity leave. The man took six weeks off after his first son was born in 2015.

People commute during a morning rush hour at Shinagawa station in Tokyo, July 18, 2019.

According to CNN, The man claims that on his return to work he was transferred to a subsidiary company’s warehouse and tasked with manual jobs, which he alleges resulted in an injury to his shoulder. He was then transferred to an office job.

“I was assigned to carry out research on disabled people’s rights in the workplace and to translate company rules into English, two areas I have no experience or expertise in,” he said. “I spend all day staring at my computer with not much to do.”

According to a ranking by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan and South Korea grant fathers more time off for child care than any of the world’s other wealthy countries. Thus, ideally Japan has one of the best paternity leave policies in the world.
Via AP/Japan Today

One of the two men suing their employers is a Canadian who was a managing director for global sales in the Tokyo office of Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, an investment bank. 

He reportedly tried to take time off in the fall of 2015 when his son was born six weeks premature. But when he asked his employer about it as part of his paternity leave, he claims he was denied. 

“My partner was working in Nepal at the time so he was born there and doctors told us they weren’t sure he would make it. I was told I wasn’t eligible because my family didn’t have a maternity booklet, which is an official record of a pregnant woman’s medical data.”

And despite his company going against it, Wood decided to leave anyway. “My son was in a life or death situation and I needed to be by his side to get him a Canadian passport, a precondition to bring him back to Japan.”

A petition on supporting Wood and calling for “Zero-tolerance for Workplace Harassment in Japan!” had garnered over 3,800 signatures on Thursday.

Sources: NY Times, CNN, Japan Today

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