Small, midsize companies urged to strengthen measures

Small and midsize companies will be required to take measures to prevent bullying and other acts of harassment in the workplace from April. It is hoped that efforts will be accelerated to eradicate harassment at work.

Under the revised law to promote comprehensive labor measures, which took effect in June 2020, large companies were already required to take such actions. So far, small and midsize companies have only been obliged to make efforts, as they needed time to develop systems to prevent harassment.

Manufacturing companies with 300 or fewer employees, and firms in the service sector that have 100 or fewer employees, are among the companies that will become subject to the law.

The revised law calls for companies to implement appropriate measures, including steps to handle harassment cases and prevent future incidents.

Companies must clearly state in their rules of employment that harassment is not permitted, and that strict actions will be taken against such behavior. The companies also need to make these rules known to their employees. The law further calls for the companies to establish a consultation system and respond to harassment cases promptly.

It is also important to state in the rules of employment that disadvantageous measures, such as dismissal, will not be applied to a person who has consulted the company about harassment.

Harassment can cause mental and physical disorders by attacking the targets’ character and hurting their dignity. Such disorders can lead to a leave of absence from work, resignation or even suicide. Companies are urged to respond to harassment cases appropriately.

In a survey conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, nearly all responding companies with 1,000 or more employees said they have taken some measures. However, among companies with 30 to 99 employees, 16% said they had not taken any steps, a figure that rose to 25% among firms with 10 to 29 employees.

Under the revised law, the government can give guidance or admonish companies to take measures. If a company does not comply, the government can disclose its name. The law also has a provision that companies that have made false reports will face a penalty of up to ¥200,000.

From next fiscal year, the ministry intends to hold sessions for employees of small and midsize companies who are in charge of harassment matters, to brief them regarding specific measures. During the sessions, experts in labor affairs will explain the revisions to the law in detail and provide advice on matters such as how to deal with harassment cases when consulted, as well as measures to prevent similar cases.

Some small and midsize companies have conducted sessions concerning harassment for all their employees, and executives have visited workplaces of their subordinates to call for prevention of harassment. Such efforts would likely be effective.

Some people argue that it is difficult to draw a line between harassment and necessary guidance.

According to the ministry’s guidelines, for example, removing unwanted subordinates from assignments and isolating them in different rooms for a long period of time is an act of harassment, but having new employees receive intensive training in different rooms for a short period of time does not constitute harassment.

Lack of communication is often considered to be behind harassment. It is crucial to improve the openness of the workplace.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2022)