Depression caused by ‘SOGI’ harassment at work recognized as labor accident

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An office worker who received labor accident recognition for harassment based on gender identity talks about their experience in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Monday.

A transgender office worker who developed depression due to so-called SOGI harassment in their office gained recognition as the victim of an industrial accident, it has been learned.

A labor standards inspection office in Kanagawa Prefecture recognized the case involving the employee, who is in their 40s, on June 30. It is rare in Japan for SOGI (sexual orientation or gender identity) harassment to be recognized as a labor accident, according to the attorney representing the employee.

SOGI harassment is an act of insulting a person on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It was defined in 2017 by sexual minorities who have suffered from such behavior at work and school. The harassment includes “outing,” in which a person discloses another person’s gender identity or sexual orientation without consent.

The employee’s officially registered sex is male, but their gender identity is female. In 2006, they took a job at a major manufacturing company in Kanagawa Prefecture. They came out regarding their gender identity at work in 2017.

According to a report on their case’s recognition as an industrial accident, obtained by the employee through an information disclosure request, the company properly treated the worker as female and informed the other employees that they should treat the employee as a woman and address them by the standard gender-neutral honorific title of “-san.”

After a while, however, the employee’s relationship with their supervisor, who had been their mentor, deteriorated. In April 2018, the employee protested that the supervisor called them “he” during a discussion attended by another manager, and the supervisor replied, “Change your gender on the register first before talking back.”

The supervisor also told them, “If you want to look feminine, you need to be more solicitous.” The boss called the employee “he” several times at that meeting, and even used the masculine honorific title “-kun” for them five times in a discussion a few days later.

The worker fell ill and took a leave of absence from work in December 2018 after being diagnosed at a medical institution with sleep disorders and depression.

The labor standards office said the supervisor’s comments were “insulting speech or behavior against gender identity. Those mental assaults that deny the person’s personality were carried out relentlessly.”

The employee was recognized to have developed depression as a result of a heavy psychological burden and was given labor accident recognition. The worker returned to work in September 2021.

The worker told The Yomiuri Shimbun that they felt uncomfortable with their gender identity and felt pain when they started growing their hair out, only to be told by their boss to get a haircut.

“When my boss verbally abused me, it hit me hard to feel that I wasn’t getting my identity understood, and I cried on the spot,” the employee said. “Gender identity is not something you can control, and understanding in the workplace is essential.”

The manufacturing company commented: “We take it seriously that the case was recognized as labor accident. We will work to prevent similar problems from happening again.”