In this June 4, 2018, photo, Glen Wood, a Canadian who has lived in Japan for 30 years, plays with his son at a Tokyo park. Photo: AP file
national

2 court cases highlight paternity leave issue in Japan

50 Comments
By Yuri Kageyama

He sits in an office of a major Japanese sportswear maker but reports to no one. He is assigned odd tasks like translating into English the manual on company rules like policies on vacations and daily hours, though he has minimal foreign language skills.

He was sidelined, he says, as retribution for taking paternity leaves after each of his two sons was born. Now he's the plaintiff in one of the first lawsuits in Japan over pata-hara, or paternity harassment, as it is known here. The first hearing is scheduled for this week.

His case is unusual in a country that values loyalty to the company, long hours and foregone vacations, especially from male employees. He asked not to be named for fear of further retribution.

The man, whose sons are now 4 and 1, was initially assigned to a sales-marketing section at Asics, where he rubbed shoulders with athletes, but was suddenly sent to a warehouse after his first paternity leave in 2015, according to his lawsuit. After he hurt his shoulder, he was assigned to the section he is in now, where he says he is forced to sit and do little.

He wants his original assignment back and 4.4 million yen in damages.

Asics said it plans to fight the allegations in court, adding that it was "regrettable" no agreement could be reached despite repeated efforts.

"Our company remains committed to pushing diversity, and we plan to foster a work environment and support system so all workers can stay productive during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing," it said in a statement.

Makoto Yoshida, professor of social studies at Ritsumeikan University, believes acceptance of paternity leave will take decades in Japan because it goes to the heart of corporate culture, which includes not being able to refuse transfers.

"A boss is apt to think a worker who takes paternity leave is useless. The boss is likely never to have taken paternity leave himself," Yoshida said. "And once an office sees a worker getting bad treatment for taking paternity leave, no one else is going to want to do it."

Japanese law guarantees both men and women up to one year leave from work after a child is born. Parents aren't guaranteed pay from their companies, but are eligible for government aid while off.

Many workers don't take the allocated paid vacations or parental leaves. Only 6% of eligible fathers take paternity leave, according to government data. More than 80% of working women take maternity leave, although that's after about half quit to get married or have a baby.

While companies are encouraged to promote parental leave, and many have expressed their support for taking time off to raise families, critics say the directives aren't trickling down to employees on the ground.

Japan's government, concerned about the drastically declining birthrate, among the lowest in the world, is even considering making parental leave mandatory.

In the U.S., federal laws don't guarantee paid parental leave, but many companies offer such benefits. European nations vary, but most offer some type of government-backed paid paternity leave. Sweden and other Scandinavian nations boast the best record for supporting parents. Canada also has a relatively generous system for paid parental leave.

Other companies in Japan — a subsidiary of major electronics company NEC Corp and chemical maker Kaneka Corp — have recently been accused of paternity harassment. They deny the allegations.

The case getting the most attention is that of Glen Wood, a Canadian, who is fighting to get his brokerage manager job back at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley.

Wood was still negotiating with his bosses to take three or four weeks of paternity leave when his son was born six weeks premature in Nepal. Wood says his bosses were extremely reluctant to let him take time off, but he decided he had to go. The doctors told him he had to come immediately to see his baby in intensive care.

Wood returned to work five months later, in March 2016, after his son recovered and could be safely brought to Japan. But he was barraged with what he alleges is harassment at work.

His job assignment was changed. He was chided for not showing up at meetings he hadn't been invited to. He was ordered to take DNA tests to prove he was really the father, which he did, as well as psychiatric tests by two doctors, who both said he was fine. He was dismissed last year.

"Whenever anybody puts up their hand and says they're harassed, basically that person becomes the weirdo, and that person ends up getting harassed," Wood said.

Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley denies any paternity harassment and has stressed it intends to fight the allegations in court.

Wood has gotten thousands of signatures on an online petition expressing support for his case and opposing harassment, including comments from Japanese who said they were suffering similar experiences, mostly fathers.

Taken off the career track, the father who works at Asics says he feels helpless. Still, he is proud of how he did all the cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping while he was on leave.

Naoto Sasayama, his lawyer, said his client believes in standing up for what's right.

"He was being made an example of," Sasayama said. "This case raises the important question of whether a person must value company over family."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

50 Comments
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Sickening but not in the least surprising.

20 ( +28 / -8 )

Good luck, gentlemen. Don't hold your breaths given you are at the mercy of the Japanese "justice" system.

11 ( +22 / -11 )

There was a guy at an eikawa I worked at years ago who suddenly took paternity leave for a month.

Everyone, both Japanese staff and English teachers were shocked as no one had any idea we were even eligible to take one.

It turned out that he was the first person in the history of the company to ever do so and the company had been around for close to 50 years.

The company originally was against him doing it but his wife found the fine print (only in Japanese since it wasn't even written in the English version) where the paternity leave information in the company handbook was written, so they reluctantly acquiesced.

21 ( +28 / -7 )

These companies should just be open and honest to the question of "Do you have paternity leave?" when advertising their benefits, instead we have these legal games which benefit nobody (maybe except lawyers).

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

I had a small taste of it at my company taking just 2 weeks off. One of my main areas of responsibility was given to another JP guy without any consultation. Basically the rotten to the core old boys network make secret backroom deals and there will be no evidence. Sad but true.

16 ( +21 / -5 )

Makoto Yoshida, professor of social studies at Ritsumeikan University, believes acceptance of paternity leave will take decades in Japan because it goes to the heart of corporate culture, which includes not being able to refuse transfers.

How do you change that ?

By making laws protecting workers. Not by "urging" businesses to do the right thing.

14 ( +19 / -5 )

By making laws protecting workers. Not by "urging" businesses to do the right thing.

Enforcing those laws also help, but it's not easy to do if nobody is willing to stick out by taking leave or challenging the company.

4 ( +12 / -8 )

They can make laws, and companies still break them. Law only comes into place when everything else has failed.

In this case, creating a law to help a guy who got fired, isn't going to help him much when he gets fired, it takes a few years to work out.

Changing the attitude to one where companies feel embarrassed to not give leave, based on the societal expectation that fathers should have leave, will go further towards making sure one doesn't have to deal with getting fired in the first place.

"Urging" businesses to do the right thing, and stating it out clearly, puts businesses that are not in compliance in the embarrassing situation of going against what is socially acceptable.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

*"Our company remains committed to pushing diversity, and we plan to foster a work environment and support system so all workers can stay productive during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing," it lied in a statement.*

14 ( +16 / -2 )

His job assignment was changed. He was chided for not showing up at meetings he hadn't been invited to. He was ordered to take DNA tests to prove he was really the father, which he did, as well as psychiatric tests by two doctors, who both said he was fine. He was dismissed last year.

Brutal. Hopefully Mr. Wood and the Asics guy will win their cases.

"He was being made an example of," Sasayama said. "This case raises the important question of whether a person must value company over family."

I think we all know the answer to that in this country.

10 ( +15 / -5 )

These companies should just be open and honest to the question of "Do you have paternity leave?" when advertising their benefits, instead we have these legal games which benefit nobody (maybe except lawyers).

The law explicitly states that they are required to grant paternity leave (this is mentioned in the article). So this is a useless suggestion, since they all legally have to offer it, they all must answer "yes" to that question.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

he has minimal foreign language skills.

Translation : He's going to loose.

Wood was still negotiating with his bosses to take three or four weeks of paternity leave.

Wood returned to work five months later.

You don't get to ask for 3 weeks off then take 20 weeks off and expect a warm welcome. It's unbelievable he still has a job.

Taking so much time off can be incredibly stressful and potentially damaging to a company. Your workload has to be put onto others, which makes their job harder than it already is. The more important the job, the harder the shortfall. By the time you're gone for months, it's better to just hire someone else, and at that point you have no job to come back to. Your job doesn't just disappear because you're gone. It has to be done, whether you do it or not. Want that job security? Find and train a temporary replacement, and agree with your bosses and that person that your job will continue to be performed to a quality standard in your absence, and you'll pick it back up at the end of your leave. If you throw that responsibility on your boss's shoulders, don't expect your boss to have a favorable view of that situation. Then, expect him to mitigate the impact of that situation occurring in the future.

-11 ( +9 / -20 )

You don't get to ask for 3 weeks off then take 20 weeks off and expect a warm welcome. It's unbelievable he still has a job.

Funny, the law says:

Japanese law guarantees both men and women up to one year leave from work after a child is born.

So by asking for 7 months less than he was entitled to, its unbelievable he still has a job? I don't get it. I highly doubt that he just showed up after 20 weeks without having made further requests in addition to his initial 3 weeks either as you imply.

Taking so much time off can be incredibly stressful and potentially damaging to a company.

Gee, you know what else is incredibly stressful? Having your child born 6 weeks premature and kept in ICU for months so they can save his life. That is what happened to this guy, its nuts that they wouldn't give him time off to deal with that.

20 ( +23 / -3 )

Taking so much time off can be incredibly stressful and potentially damaging to a company.

When that is the case it’s either an untenable business plan or poor management. Either way it’s the responsibility of companies.

16 ( +20 / -4 )

It is difficult or impossible for the westerners to work the same way Japanese salaried men work at Japanese companies. They cannot bring their way of work styles into Japan. Feudalistic ideas still permeate in Japanese companies. So, it was his mistake he joined the Japanese company.

-11 ( +5 / -16 )

They cannot bring their way of work styles into Japan.

Um, they’re not. This is Japanese law, not foreign law.

18 ( +19 / -1 )

Taking paternity leave is difficult in Japan even though it’s allowed by law. Furthermore, getting paid leave is even more difficult. While women will receive paid leave, for men, the government asks us to prove that we will be employed during the leave and after the leave is over. It’s hard to do when you are on consistent one year contracts. If you have a company that says they won’t rehire you, then your leave becomes unpaid because the government sees it as you were not going to be employed anyway.

Another issue is if you get divorced. Once you get divorced, the concept that a child has two parents is non existent in japan. So only one parent qualifies for parental benefits such as child sick leave. Doesn’t matter if you equally care for your child. By law, your child has only one parent once the parents are divorced.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

It is difficult or impossible for the westerners to work the same way Japanese salaried men work at Japanese companies. They cannot bring their way of work styles into Japan. Feudalistic ideas still permeate in Japanese companies. So, it was his mistake he joined the Japanese company.

I wouldn't say it's impossible... it's just insane and illogical the way Japanese salary men work. 'Westerners' --though not limited to those from the west--actually value other things than licking their boss' boots.

It's not like the recruiter tells you how much Japan's work-life balance sucks, either.

No one expects childish bullying, micro-aggressions, and constant harassment or I suspect they would've turned down the offer(s) right away.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

he has minimal foreign language skills.

Translation : He's going to loose.

This tickled me more than it should have

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I took paternity leave when my first child was born ... I didn't do that again.

Staying at the office was 10 times easier than looking after time-bombs

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Japanese companies better have two labor contracts one for Japanese workers and the other for foreign workers. You see, at big and old companies in Japan, you can rarely find foreign workers in the same office. You will be lucky if you could work under Japanese bosses who had experinces working in foreign countries but if not...

Situation is changing in Japan as it is becoming difficult to work lifetime at their companies. Jobs are getting insecure for Japanese workers even at big companies and they are demanding freedoms than self-sacrificing cotributions in return for their lifetime employement.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Japanese companies better have two labor contracts one for Japanese workers and the other for foreign workers.

Why would they be better off doing something that would put them in violation of the labor law and potentially get themselves sued?

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Asics said it plans to fight the allegations in court, adding that it was "regrettable" no agreement could be reached despite repeated efforts.

"Our company remains committed to pushing diversity, and we plan to foster a work environment and support system so all workers can stay productive during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing," it said in a statement.

Sounds like Asics kind of did the exact opposite of what it is apparently committed to doing.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

It's complicated, but are people really expecting to stop working for a year and expect their job being as it was?

Not siding towards any but I always believe in flexibility where both the employer and employee is flexible in working hours. Living in a world where either one side is taking without giving isn't sustainable whether it is towards nature, others or work.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

are people really expecting to stop working for a year and expect their job being as it was?

Of course - that’s what paternity leave is.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Not happy about that at all.....I'm usually a strong brand fan of ASICS....I was up to now.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

From my expericences, the western companes were not paradises for workers too. Bosses were like dictators and things were not democratic. They had two washing rooms one for executives and the other for ordinary workers. In Japanese companies, things were more equal.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Sweden and other Scandinavian nations boast the best record for supporting parents.

Utterly false. Fake news. According to Pew Research Center, even Japan has longer paid paternity leave than Sweden. In Europe, the best record for supporting parents is in Estonia followed by Bulgaria, and then Hungary. Sweden is not even in top 15 in Europe for paid parental leave. Of course, Sweden has a good image which must be maintained even if we have to lie about it, while Bulgaria and Estonia have bad image, which must be maintained even if we have to lie by omission. That's how it is in the Media World.

Source: https://imgur.com/a/fnf3diE

When it comes to Japan, the professor from Ritsumeikan University was explicit. The problem is not the lack of paternal leave, the problem is that if you take it, you get punished, which discourages others from taking it out of fear, not out of loyalty for their company. They are not loyal, they are scared. And why are they scared? Because there aren't a lot of good paying jobs on the market, which is the result of protectionist policies and high taxation. If people knew they can just quit and get another good paying job, they would not be afraid to take parental leave, in fact, the boss would be afraid to treat workers badly knowing they can just quit anytime.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

I hope they win. The government and businesses are always whining about the low birth rate and the subsequent labour shortage, but pay lip service to anything that changes the situation. If fathers are encouraged to take a more active involvement with their children and share family responsibilities with the mother, couples are more likely to have children.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

There seems to be this illusion that if fathers do more to help at home then women will have more children.

My grandparents generation had 5, 6, 7 kids per family but those guys didn't lift a finger in the house.

The birth rate has fallen for many reasons. This comment will probably be moderated if I start to list them now so I won't, but I really don't think giving guys paternity leave is going to boost the birth rate.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

At the bottom of the problem is that Japanese are based on groupeism while the westerners individualism. Japanese think the company's profit first while the westerners think happiness of family or individual first. For them companies exist to realize their individual happiness. Japanese thinks a little different. For some, to work for foreign companies may be good but I do not necessarily recommend. "Hire and Fire" is way of life in the western companies. Logic of capitalism is naked and ruthless.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Sounds like Asia gave him some running shoes. Good luck sir fighting the old men.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There seems to be this illusion that if fathers do more to help at home then women will have more children.

Would say its an illusion that if women were not working outside the home they would have more kids? I mean, I think this is a key part of the issue. Women are WAAAAY too busy. The idea they need relief before they will think about having kids or more kids is reasonable. However, you may be right that that particular way of doing it won't work.

As a former progressive on such issues, I feel I was such a fool. I think progressive societies are headed for a massive fail as conservative societies out breed the hell out of us. Its hard to tell if married women working outside the home was a true bid for freedom, engineered by the great bags at the top who saw profits in doubling the work force, or if its the former and the greed bags just took advantage. But its a real bad idea to have two working stiffs as parents and those parents won't be likely to want more kids.

And while I am not against married women working, the problem is they won't tolerate or have a stay at home husband. Even progressive women are generally not that progressive. And that ladies and gentlemen is how the traditional conservative family came to be. Taking care of the house and kids is a full time job. Getting enough money to support the family is a full time job. Women won't tolerate house husbands so we got housewives and salaryMEN. This stupid experiment in working married women has been a farce overall.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

It is unfortunate but this is what a change in paradigm brings at the beginning, companies talk without really understanding what they say.

Probably a few times with a huge payout will do miracles to change this, companies will have to put their money where their mouths are or will have to recognize they will not give leaves to the parents.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A very long time is required for a culture to change fundamental concepts of interpersonal relationships, and a clear need to change is required. 70 years is not long enough and no need has been perceived by those in control.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why is anybody surprised by this. I’m quite sure everybody is familiar with the intimidation and harassment that is the mainstay of Japanese business culture. Workers are given 20 days a year vacation. Most only take less than ten days and rarely are they consecutive days off and if they are, it is no more than three. Bring absent from your desk for a week is unheard of. Even today after the trains started running at 1pm my Mrs was ordered to go to work. It takes her 90 minutes usually, but it took two hours to get there today coz of delays. She worked for less than two hours.

Japan Inc. is just rotten bunch of slavery drivers who believe they own there employees and the company always comes first before an employee’s family or life. People are entitled to paternity leave, but if you take it, your short term contract will quickly be terminated or you will be ostracized in the work place leaving you no option than to resign. This is Japan Inc!

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Were I the workforce-fairy and could I wave a magic wand over the problem I would suggest these steps as people--companies, bosses, managers, workers--need incentives.

Minimum paternity and maternity leaves should be mandatory by law.

Then there ought to be an equal maximum period for each.

Companies who can show how many workers are taking their minimum leaves would receive compensation in tax breaks.

Companies who can show that their workers are taking more than the minimum would receive greater compensation in tax breaks.

After minimum leave is exhausted, the workers who choose not take more than the minimum, must be given additional compensation in pay and receive tax breaks.

Companies shown to be not in compliance with the law must be fined heavily.

A company's business plan needs to reflect that economic reality.

If it does not cost the company anything if it fails to comply with the law, no amount of urging or "rights" in small print that are never enforced are useless.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Is he getting paid the same? I'd love to do less for same pay. Here, I'd get fired then I would have to find lawyer and go through years of filing and hearings before settlement while working other jobs (who'd want to hire a "troublemaker"?) to make ends meet. Yes, he should not be harassed or reassigned for taking vacation and paternity leave, but other so-called first world countries are worse.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

German codetermination (half of worker reps on the board of directors) would do wonders for worker rights.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Paternity leave?

What on Earth is that?

The guy's wife has a baby and he expects to have paid leave?

Why?????

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Uh... Moderators...

He asked not to be named for fear of further retribution.

And underneath the Photo we see:

In this June 4, 2018, photo, Glen Wood, a Canadian who has lived in Japan for 30 years, plays with his son at a Tokyo park.  Photo: AP file

So, are you accidentally naming him ? Or is the picture completely unrelated to the news story, and puts Mr Wood into a potential predicament of mistaken identity ?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

mmwkgo you accidentally summed up what is completely wrong on so many levels of Japanese society

3 ( +3 / -0 )

In the university (top top top university in Japan) where I'm working, we are now obliged to take at least two days off per year on paper. ON PAPER. We are also now required to submit a time table per month of how long you work that month. This is their way of handling "employee's well being" by legally removing any responsibility from the university instead of "actually caring" for their employees. I mean, it doesn't matter to me because I am not in the general workforce. But the poor staffers in the office... they were left to rot.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

So, are you accidentally naming him

@mmwkdw,

I was confused by that too. But the photo is of the guy referred to later in the article, not the first guy mentioned. (I think.)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There are still too many people in Japan today, this is why babies are worthless.

If Japan’s population declined to say 30 million, then every baby becomes precious.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

The guy’s baby was in the hospital, that’s why he was gone so long. I don’t know if you guys have ever had your baby or small child in the hospital but a parent has to be there pretty much all the time to care for the child. Hospitals are not babysitters or surrogate parents. My younger child was in the hospital for a while as a baby and it was really difficult to manage caring for her, our older child, and just being able to shower and eat, which couldn’t be done at the hospital. I mean I had to wait for my husband to show up just so I could go to the bathroom. Pretty sick to fire this guy because he was providing needed care to his family.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This isn't a Japanese company mentality but a Japanese management mentality problem. This happened to me for a on the job injury on the trading floor while working IT for a Swiss Securities Bank that has a three letter name that sounds like the shipping company that uses the saying "what can brown do for you".

Anyhooo, I needed to take a couple of days off to go see the doctor and then for minor surgery to repair the damage. After a total of 11 days off over a one month period, I was shuffled off to a remote site to do practically nothing but watch the sun move across the sky. They hoped I would just quit of boredom but in the end, they came up with complete crap about downsizing and not needing as many IT people. That manager was the worst one I've ever had in 22 years of IT work. I would have been upset but since she had done this so many times before, I figured Karma could not be far behind her and so I just moved on.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"corporate culture" is obsolete. Japan is years behind the rest of the world about that.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@albaleo

They are not naming the guy. The article talks about 2 cases. The guy from the first case was not named but they gave a lot of identifying information where coworkers or the company would instantly know who the person is by reading this article.

The person in the photo is from the second case.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

After a total of 11 days off over a one month period, I was shuffled off to a remote site to do practically nothing but watch the sun move across the sky. 

Oddly enough for me getting paid to do nothing would be fine. I would download kindle and catch up on the classics.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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