Canadian father sues Japanese company for paternity harassment
TOKYO – Brokerage manager Glen Wood was still negotiating with his bosses to take three or four weeks of paternity leave when his son was born six weeks prematurely.
Wood, 48, a Canadian who has lived in Japan for 30 years, thought he wasn’t asking too much of Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley, just a small part of what the law guarantees: up to 12 months’ leave from maternity or paternity paid and your work back.
Japan’s parental leave system is relatively generous by international standards – at least on paper. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has championed such policies, saying they are necessary to prevent the country’s population decline from plummeting by better balancing work and family life.
But the practice often deviates from the principles of Japan Inc., where loyalty to the company almost always comes before family and time off can be a handicap.
According to the Ministry of Labor, only 3 percent of eligible men – compared to over 80 percent of working women – take advantage of Japan’s parental leave system, which does not differentiate between men and women in childbirth and child care. let.
Wood’s bosses were extremely reluctant to let him take time off, but after a few days of haggling he decided he just had to go.
The baby was in intensive care at a hospital in Nepal, where his partner worked and had given birth.
“It was a time of real panic,” he recalls.
Wood returned to work five months later, in March 2016, after his son recovered and was taken safely to Japan.
That’s when the harassment started, he says.
Wood was reprimanded for not showing up to meetings he was not invited to. His assignment was changed against his will. Wood was asked to take a DNA test to prove that he really was the boy’s father. He did that.
On three occasions, he was ordered to undergo psychiatric tests administered by two doctors appointed by the company. The two gave him good health and recommended that he be allowed to return to work, according to Wood.
“I love my job,” he said.
Wood sued the brokerage in February in Tokyo District Court, seeking his original job and back pay, including bonuses, which he was denied after October 2017. He was formally fired earlier this year. .
A decision should take more than a year.
Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley said in a statement it responded “with sincerity” to Wood’s requests for paternity leave. He denied any harassment and declined to comment on the details of the trial.
In general, few Japanese are prepared to fight unfair treatment in court for fear of being seen as a troublemaker in this harmonious nation, where litigation can be costly and fruitless. Most of the lawsuits filed relate to maternity harassment rather than paternity harassment, which makes Wood’s case highly unusual, said his attorney, Yoshitatsu Imaizumi.
“The law guarantees the right, but the prevailing thought is that men should just work,” Imaizumi said. “This kind of old-fashioned thinking runs deep.”
There are no criminal penalties for companies that fail to meet maternity or paternity leave standards. The most the government will do is to put a company on a “blacklist”. And taking childbirth leave is not as culturally accepted in Japan as it is in Europe, where it is common, or even in the United States, where there is no government-mandated parental leave system. federal. Some states and many companies offer such benefits.
Kaori Sasaki, managing director of ewoman Inc., a consultant for companies on gender diversity, says harassment training is on the rise in Japanese companies, but dramatic improvements only result if core awareness people change, not just by putting such systems in place.
“To take a positive note, it can be said that things are better – compared to 30 years ago,” she said. “But to be negative, you can also say that things haven’t changed that much. The progress has been subtle, I would say.”
Women complain that they are often forced to stop when they get pregnant. Expectations for men taking time off for new parenthood are so low that for a man to take even a day off is considered an achievement for a Japanese company, Sasaki said.
A government campaign to encourage men to take time off, dubbed “ikumen”, in reference to the Japanese word “ikuji” or “children’s education”, remains so far more a slogan than a reality in Japan, which ranks 114th out of 144 economies in the World Economic Forum’s latest global gender equality ranking. Considering disparities in income and career opportunities, education, health care, political empowerment, and other sociological factors, Japan had the worst position among the major Group of Seven economies.
Businesses need to realize that they are damaging their own performance, morale, teamwork and branding with outdated management practices, Wood said, making his son laugh in pleasure during a recent outing in a Tokyo park.
“They have to catch up with global standards very quickly and they have to change,” said Wood. “What they have done is wrong.”