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