Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Japan cases highlight paternity issues


Glen Wood, a Canadian who has lived in Japan for 30 years, plays with his son at a Tokyo park on June 4 last year.

Photo: AP

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, although he has minimal foreign-language skills.

He was sidelined as retribution for taking paternity leaves after each of his two sons was born, he says. Now he is the plaintiff in one of the first lawsuits in Japan over “pata-hara,” or paternity harassment, as it is known there. 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 four and one, 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 (US$41,000) 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, a professor of social studies at Ritsumeikan University, said that 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 men and women up to one year leave from work after a child is born. Parents are not guaranteed pay from their companies, but are eligible for government aid while off.

Many workers do not take allocated paid vacations or parental leave. Only 6 percent of eligible fathers take paternity leave, according to Japanese government data. More than 80 percent of working women take maternity leave, although that is 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 are not trickling down to employees on the ground.

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


In the US, federal laws do not 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.

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