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Survey shows maternity harassment still a problem at workplace

29 Comments

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on workplace maternity harassment, or "matahara," as it is called in Japanese, shows that 21.8% of full-time employees and 48.7% of temp staff have experienced such harassment.

The survey, which received responses from 3,500 women aged 25 to 44, was conducted in September and October, Fuji TV reported. Of those who experienced "matahara," 47% were told they were annoying for making their co-workers do extra work or asked why they didn't quit. Twenty percent lost their jobs.

About 40% of respondents said the harassment came from their male superiors, 20% said they were harassed by female superiors, while the rest cited co-workers, the ministry said.

One woman told NHK that having a baby should be a joyous occasion but she was so tense about going to work each day because of harassment that she feared she would have a miscarriage, so she quit her job.

The issue of "matahara" has come into the spotlight over the past year. A law was enacted that makes workplace harassment of women who are either pregnant or within the first year of child-rearing an illegal act and therefore punishable by law.

The law came into effect this year after a Supreme Court decision in October 2014 in the first-ever suit on maternity harassment. That case involved a woman demoted during pregnancy. The plaintiff sued for about 1.7 million yen in compensation plus costs and the court ruled in her favor.

More Japanese women are continuing to work after having children, as a downtrend in wages since the late 1990s has made life harder for single-income families. As of 2010, 46% of working women stayed in their jobs after having their first child, up from 32% in 2001, according to the labor ministry.

At the same time, complaints about harassment and discrimination related to pregnancy and childbirth have risen. In fiscal year to March 31, the government received 2,085 such complaints from female workers, up 18% from six years ago.

Japan’s laws guarantee women the right to seek less physically demanding roles during pregnancy. They also guarantee 14 weeks of maternity leave surrounding childbirth and allow for childcare leave, which can be used by either parent until their child’s first birthday and can be extended in some cases.

Yet many women find it difficult to take advantage of those policies in the face of traditional expectations for them to focus on housework and child-rearing, as well as their relatively insecure positions in the workforce.

Lawyers say contract workers often fear their employment will not be renewed if they take maternity or childcare leave. Last year, around 56% of women were hired under part-time or temporary contracts, compared with 21% of men working under such arrangements.

Following the results of the latest survey, the labor ministry plans to revise the legislation and make it clearer what sort of behavior constitutes "matahara." For example, a superior telling a pregnant woman who asks permission to leave work at a fixed time, cannot say: "No, because you will not be treated differently from other employees." Another example will be staff who repeatedly make comments about being given extra work because a pregnant co-worker goes home early or asks for a lighter work load.

© Japan Today/Thomson Reuters

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

29 Comments
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this really isn't surprising and i doubt if the revision in the legislation will do anything to curb matahara. the hive menatality of most japanese companies is not conducive to the needs of women who work after giving birth. i don't see this problem stopping anytime soon unfortunately.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Gees, some people are naive about the speed of change in Japan. Give it a decade or two son.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

The survey, which received responses from 3,500 women aged 25 to 44, was conducted in September and October, Fuji TV reported. Of those who experienced “matahara,” 47% were told they were annoying for making their co-workers do extra work or asked why they didn’t quit. Twenty percent lost their jobs.

Government efforts are onanistic, then: not the best for boosting fertility rates.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

What exactly is the government doing sbout this? They have the laws on the books, so how about some real justice. Fine these companies. Heavily. Name and shame them.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Jeez. Japan really is hopeless. Who in their right mind would want to work in japan??

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

What exactly is the government doing sbout this?

This. All they do is have surveys every year, make a big announcement about a crackdown and then go back to sleep.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Bullying and harassment are such an integral part of Japanese society. They will never be stamped out. It would be akin to asking foreigners to stop shaking hands when first meeting someone. You can't stamp out something so ingrained.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

This is not an easily solved problem.

During the 2 year and 14 week maternity leave, someone else is doing her job. Now, she is back. What is fair to do with the extra worker?

In the US, this may not be a problem, because a firm can fire its employee at whim. The situation is different in Japan.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

As a Japanese American male married to an American thinking about Kidz I'm very interested in any personal experiences of workplace harassment and rules and laws regarding women and pregnancy. Anything people?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hopefully more of the impacted women AND men will sue.

Sexual harassment wasn't handled correctly in the US until a few cases were highly publicized. Then HR departments started having training sessions to teach those doing the harassment THEIR JOBS were at risk. It took about a decade and harassment still happens, but I've seen Sr.VPs forced out of the company over this improper behavior. I've also seen temp secretaries forced out after harassing me.

The same solution can work in Japan for this type of harassment. Huge fines for the company and having the managers fired. Their jobs need to be a risk for not handling harassment complaints promptly.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on workplace maternity harassment, or “matahara,” as it is called in Japanese, shows that 21.8% of full-time employees and 48.7% of temp staff have experienced such harassment.

This isn't simply not surprising, it is actually quite depressing. In the 21st century, in the world's 3rd largest economy, women are still harassed for getting pregnant at work. Can anyone really still wonder why Japan is declining at the rate it is?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

For example, a superior telling a pregnant woman who asks permission to leave work at a fixed time, cannot say: “No, because you will not be treated differently from other employees.”

There's one of the problems there - people not being able to leave at a fixed time.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

A law was enacted that makes workplace harassment of women who are either pregnant or within the first year of child-rearing an illegal act and therefore punishable by law.

WTF! So they put a time limit on this & after that expires your free to harass, that's seriously messed up! The only thing worse is the lack of enforcement of this!

To thepersoniamnow, Japan is very family UN-FRIENDLY. not many families enjoy a good balanced life here sadly!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@GW Peace brother. My neighbor an Aussie has a year old baby with his wife who is Japanese. He was unable to put his baby into daycare as he is not a full time Uni professor but part time since he's just started out in this field. Apparantly if you work under 4 hours any day of the week you are considered less of a candidate for applying to daycare and preschool. Is this really my country who is suffering a population crisis and has millions to spend on nonsense but not on its civilians?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

in the US, this may not be a problem, because a firm can fire its employee at whim. The situation is different

'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

And in US, fired person will sue the former employer at whim. A couple million $$$? The situation is different

0 ( +1 / -1 )

in the US, this may not be a problem, because a firm can fire its employee at whim. The situation is different

That just is not true. Some states have laws that require "cause" for firing. Harassment of any kind is "cause." Plus middle-management usually cannot fire someone without clear, documented reasons. In larger companies, if many people are being "downsized", a public announcement is required by law.

Even in so-called "right to work states", like were I live, most companies are afraid of harassment lawsuits, so documenting multiple issues with a worker is normal before firing. 3 seems to be the number. A formal meeting to let the employee try to resolve the issue(s) is standard.

It is only very small companies or food-service-jobs where someone might be fired "on a whim." This is usually by a mean owner/boss who feels that fear and intimidation are good management techniques. So I hear.

It can work in Japan if HR and the CxO guys are held accountable 1-2 times in court.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

women find it difficult to take advantage of those policies in the face of traditional expectations for them to focus on housework and child-rearing, as well as their relatively insecure positions in the workforce.

Those "traditional expectations" are to blame. Housework, child-rearing, managing finances etc. etc.- might as well be like it was a 100 years ago. Only to find in 2015, all these circumstances have not changed. In addition to employment and "harassment", how can any Japanese woman (children or not) endure?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In the US, this may not be a problem, because a firm can fire its employee at whim. The situation is different in Japan.

What absolute nonsense. In the US, as in other developed countries, the employee is hired temporarily on a contract for maternity cover. They are well aware of it when they take on the position.

As a Japanese American male married to an American thinking about Kidz I'm very interested in any personal experiences of workplace harassment and rules and laws regarding women and pregnancy. Anything people?

yes, I was fired back in 2003 as I "didn't look professional in front of clients" when I was pregnant. Nothing has changed and my advice for a married woman planning pregnancy is don't come here, especially a foreign one. In the US she may not experience the harassment of Japan but maternity laws are shockingly bad. Here in Japan they have great laws - they just don't often apply them. She would also need to be working in a full time position a set period of time before she is even entitled to the cover. It's really not simple at all.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Come to France then ladies. Easy and happy for pregnancy. All women I heard never ever complained. Why are people making sacrifice about A LIFE. Japan is definitively a bad idea for families on average anyway.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

France has amazing maternity care and laws, and they are actually stuck to as well!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In Ontario (Canada), pregnant women are allowed up to 17 weeks of pregnancy leave, then 35-37 weeks of parental leave (which can be split with the father however they choose). Employers cannot penalize employees in any way for taking this leave.

Leave can be taken up to one year after the birth, and is available for any parent who has been working for at least 13 weeks before the due date (full-time or part-time, permanent or contracted).

Too bad my two kids were born in Japan....

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"A superior telling a pregnant woman who asks permission to leave work at a fixed time, cannot say: “No, because you will not be treated differently from other employees.” Or staff who repeatedly make comments about being given extra work because a pregnant co-worker goes home early or asks for a lighter work load. "

But they are right, I think you as a worker wont want increase your load of work because there are other women that are not being capable to do their work anymore because they get pregnant. Their pay could be rather used to hire other one to do their job. These would be perfectly valid reasons to not want to hire women.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This was a topic of discussion at work today. The number one (percentage wise) "guilty" of harassment was male bosses , but what was surprising was that female "bosses" were a close second. Many women who are in managerial positions here in Japan harass and discriminate against women as well.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Many Japanese women of my age came to study in USA, fall in love with a fellow American student, marry and were used to be accused we make our husband house husband back in home when visitors see husband carrying our baby. My late husband always had paternity leave when our babies were born. If both parents were involving to raise children, they inherit nice traits of both parents. No Mata Hara in So. Cal.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

But they are right, I think you as a worker wont want increase your load of work because there are other women that are not being capable to do their work anymore because they get pregnant. Their pay could be rather used to hire other one to do their job. These would be perfectly valid reasons to not want to hire women.

No. Society needs children. Women have children. As responsible members of society, we need to accept that mothers will need different levels of support than non-mothers, and anyone who would deny this is not a responsible member of society.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

A law was enacted that makes workplace harassment of women who are either pregnant or within the first year of child-rearing an illegal act and therefore punishable by law.

So does this mean that employers will be free to harrass them AFTER one year then?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

But they are right, I think you as a worker wont want increase your load of work because there are other women that are not being capable to do their work anymore because they get pregnant. Their pay could be rather used to hire other one to do their job. These would be perfectly valid reasons to not want to hire women.

Miguel,

Sorry dude, THIS attitude is a MAJOR reason why Japans population etc is headed south. An economy that doesn't jive with families is headed for trouble & sadly Japan is the poster child for this kind of trouble & looks set to get much worse

0 ( +0 / -0 )

this not only happened in japan, other countries too.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@strangerland @GW Since my point of view it is the main role of the husband to give financial support, I think if a woman want to continue working, she should do it in the kind of job that let her balance her live without affect others. Besides I don’t think that make workplaces pay this price would really increase birthrates; as I can see the most important reasons in Japan for the low birthrate are others that just promote women continue working after her first childbirth.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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