In this three-part series on quitting, we’ve been looking at problems in the workplace. In part one, we discussed ways to overcome office-related issues, while in part two, we focused on how to find new employment and resign from a job with grace. In the final article of the series, we’ll be looking at accessing legal assistance to deal with serious workplace issues.
When to Seek Legal Information and Advice
Many workplace problems can be managed without involving outside help, while others can be taken care of with minimal outside support. There are cases, however, that require more substantial intervention, such as Labour Standards Act violations and harassment complaints that aren’t being properly dealt with through in-house systems.
Before seeking help, be sure to make your company aware of your concerns and document any correspondence and discussions. A failure to do so could mean trouble later on with companies claiming they were never informed of the problem and were thus unable to take proper action.
According to a Sumikawa Law Office article, employees have five possible courses of action when seeking to settle labour disputes: negotiation to reach mutual agreement; mediation with a dispute coordinating committee; civil conciliation in court; labour tribunal; and civil lawsuit.
Each option comes with advantages and disadvantages, and timelines and costs can vary wildly. Explore your options by contacting organizations that provide legal information and advice, some of which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
Unions and Labour Standards Inspection Offices
If you’re part of a union, contact your representative for advice. Unions can be more effective at negotiating with employers and resolving problems than individuals, and with luck, union pressure or union-led discussions will solve your problem without much fuss.
Even if that fails to do the trick, however, your union will be knowledgeable about possible next steps and should be able to provide you with some support.
If you don’t have membership in a union, take labour law violations to your nearest Labour Standards Inspection Office for a free consultation. Some offices have multilingual support and advisors specializing in foreign-national workers. After-hours telephone support is available through the Labour Standards Advice Hotline.
Labour Standards Inspection Offices can contact employers and initiate investigations when necessary. It is also Labour Standards Inspection Offices where you’ll find guidance if you choose mediation.
Further Legal Information and Advice
Explore your options more deeply and gain insight into the legal ramifications of various courses of action by meeting with lawyers and advisors. There are a number of organizations that offer legal information and advice for free, including counselling and labour affairs centres administered by prefectures and cities, legal support centres and some bar associations.
A good place to start is Houterasu (Japan Legal Support Centre), a public agency that provides access to legal help and advice across Japan and which was mentioned in part one of this series. Houterasu can provide information on the Japanese legal system, bar associations and related subjects over the phone in a variety of languages. Paid consultations are also available. Depending on your financial situation, you may be eligible for civil legal aid.
City-run and associated organizations like the Tokyo Labour Consultation Centre and Tokyo Supporting Network for Foreign Residents also provide free legal counselling services, and while most bar associations and bar-associated legal counselling centres charge a fee, some offer free consultations to those with low incomes.
A number of law firms and organizations offer multilingual legal counselling services for a fee, like the Legal Counselling Centre for Foreigners, which can provide service in English, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Spanish and can arrange interpreters for non-Japanese speakers who need one at no extra cost.
Avoiding Problems in Future Jobs
Prevent issues from arising in the first place by thoroughly researching the companies you’re thinking of applying to. Have they been labelled as an exploitative “black company” (burakku kigyo)? What are people saying about them on social media and in news reports?
Even if your searches turn up nothing untoward, it’s essential that you read job listings carefully. Anything too vague or unclear, especially about working hours and wages, should be questioned. If clear answers aren’t forthcoming, drop the company from consideration.
Once you’re ready to accept a job offer, make sure important details are provided in written form. Though verbal contracts are legal in Japan, companies are required to provide certain employment conditions, including wage information, in writing.
If your contract includes any concerning points, run it by advisors like those at the Tokyo Employment Consultation Centre (TECC). Any hesitation by potential employers to provide clearly worded written details should be considered a red flag.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of future trouble is being told that you, as a foreign national, are not protected by Japan’s Labour Standards Act. Rest assured that you are and stay far away from companies that tell you otherwise.
The best way to protect yourself is to learn your rights. The Working Conditions Handbook, produced in part by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, helps you do just that with its excellent overview of some of the more important elements of labour law.
To deal with serious work problems, you may need to pursue legal help. A number of options are open to workers seeking support or redress, and a variety of organizations both free and paid are available to provide legal information and advice. To avoid running into problems in the first place, however, it’s essential that you become familiar with your rights.
Labour Standards Advice Hotline
Houterasu (Japan Legal Support Centre)
Tokyo Labour Consultation Centre
Tokyo Intercultural Portal Site
Settling Labour Disputes in Japan (Sumikawa Law Office)
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
Tokyo Public Law Office
Legal Counselling Centre for Foreigners
Tokyo Bar Association
Tokyo Employment Consultation Centre
Employment Contracts (Tokyo Intercultural Portal Site)
Working Conditions Handbook
Please note that we are not responsible for links to third-party websites.