Ladies & The Law: Battling the invisible enemy behind every maternity harassment case


In Japan, the government claims it wants a society where women in the workplace can “shine,” while simultaneously also telling women they should have more children to arrest the country’s population decline. The government surely tells itself (and tries to persuade the world) that it has a sufficient legal regime to allow both of these goals to be simultaneously pursued. 

Indeed, there are laws providing (1) time off for prenatal care, (2) maternity leave, and (3) childcare leave (for either parent) as well as laws specifically (4) prohibiting disadvantageous treatment of women relating to their pregnancy or childbirth. It all looks great on paper.

Yet, the situation of working mothers (and mothers-to-be) remains difficult, even tragic, in many cases. The following are, sadly, just a handful of the many cases where lack of support and understanding of mothers and or mothers-to-be in the workplace shows how poorly corporate Japan does when it comes to supporting and valuing working mothers.

More than a lack of support…deliberate sabotage

Mother A, a clerical worker near the end of her second one-year employment contract, was threatening to miscarry in her 11th week of pregnancy. Her doctor ordered her to stay at home on bed rest for two weeks. Her supervisor visited her at home, but rather than showing concern for her, told her that if she did not return to work right away, it would be impossible for the company to renew her current employment contract. She reluctantly returned to work and suffered a miscarriage. Her supervisor suggested that she should concentrate on her job for a few years before again considering starting her family.

Mother B, a teacher at a language school, was unable to find a childcare placement for her baby at the end of her childcare leave and asked if she could work part-time for a while. Her school insisted that in order to do this, she would have to agree to change her employment status from regular employee to contract employee. She agreed. At the end of her one year contract, the school notified her that they would not offer her a further contract.

Mother C, a physical therapist whose job involves making house calls on patients found the house calls too physically demanding in the late stages of her pregnancy and asked to be placed on lighter duties, something she is legally entitled to under Labor Standards Act Art 65(3). Her employer agreed to re-assign her to in-hospital duties but told her she would have to be demoted from her current manager-level job as a result. When she returned from her maternity and childcare leave, she learned that the hospital has no intention of reinstating her to her earlier manager-level position, even though she had understood her change of status to be a temporary one related to her pregnancy.

These and other forms of discrimination against pregnant women or working mothers have a name in Japan: maternity harassment (mata-hara).

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

While legally, many things in Japan sound like the perfect society; however, the issues are not legal, they are more so mindset. The Tokyo medical school scandal speaks wonders to that mindset. Instead of being my concerned with placing the best doctors out there, they are more concerned with placing men over women because they say men have longer careers.

Companies overlook women for promotions, particularly married women, because they assume that women can’t and don’t want to work after having a child or they must have a child eventually.

Also, there are many short comings in the government part such as the current set up of child care facilities. It’s hard to entice people to have children when they can’t get into daycare. When the daycares are full and the wife is assumed to have to be the one to care for the child.

Also, the overwork culture makes it difficult to have children where you’re expected to put in 12 or 14 hour days at least 6 days a week. What time is there for family?

13 ( +13 / -0 )

The names of these companies and businesses should be made public! There is no excuse!

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Also, the overwork culture makes it difficult to have children where you’re expected to put in 12 or 14 hour days at least 6 days a week. What time is there for family?

In my opinion there are far too many businesses and corporations that think that the company IS the reason there is a family in the first place. Without the income that the business provides there would be no money for the family. So the logic is take care of the company.

And when it comes time for "you" to need help, the company kicks you to the curb and says good-bye!

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Mother A, a clerical worker near the end of her second one-year employment contract, was threatening to miscarry in her 11th week of pregnancy. She reluctantly returned to work and suffered a miscarriage. 

In Japan there are cases where employer involved in their female employee miscarriage, in some cases even suggest to do abortion either directly or indirectly.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I'm often asked by people here if I think the Japanese work "harder" than in other countries. My answer is its not how "hard" (=long hours) you work, but how efficient. I tell them taking taking time off from work is part of the job, otherwise you cannot work efficiently. Some people starting to think more about what I say but the problem continues to be with management who continue to misunderstand.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

People always state 10-12 hour work hours, but they never include the 1.5-3 hour travel time in overcrowded trains or buses. No wonder they are so tired.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

As this article points out this specific aspect of womens "employment" is indeed a real problem.

What Japan needs to do is VIGEROUSLY ENFORCE all labour laws for all employee's right its downright hell for EVERYONE employed, men, women, young, old, its nasty for the vast majority & downright awful for the country as a whole!!

And yet NOTHING changes virtually, the decline & rot continue unabated, at this pace Japan is going to cease to function, in fact the symptoms have been happening & are have been visible for well over 20yrs now.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Yet another reason for the low birthrate. Can businesses not see the long term consequences?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Laws here are intended to protect the social hierarchy, not the citizens.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This is tragically predictable, and frankly demoralising and painful to read.

Unless there are clearly defined judicial guidelines, rigidly enforced with criminal responsibly for companies and there board/senior management, that must be held fully accountable for there actions, then expect many more unnecessary serious derelictions of duties of care.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The hardest working people I've ever seen anywhere I've been all over the world are Americans! Whew, husband and wife working from can to cannot every day. Only maybe two weeks vacation a year, very few national holidays off, etc. It's a real lat lace (I speak Chinese) I tell you.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Women are smart and know the situation well. Not getting married and not having children is very rationale in unstable economic times.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites