In June this year, Japan amended its Act on Comprehensive Promotion of Labor Policies (改正労働施策総合推進法) adding new language targeting power harassment. The amendment which is also commonly known as the “Power Harassment Prevention Act” (pawa hara boshi ho, パワハラ防止法) obligates companies to put measures in place to prevent workplace bullying and implement an internal consultation process. In the beginning, only big corporations are required to strengthen measures against power harassment. Small to mind-size companies have to follow suit from April 2022.
In Japan power harassment has received attention as legal and policy issue since 1990 but until 2020 Japan was the only OECD country without a law prohibiting power harassment in the workplace. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) showcases that harassment is a widespread issue in Japan with 32.5% of respondents reporting that they were subjected to harassment in the workplace in the last 3 years. The #WeToo movement (the Japanese response to the anti-sexual harassment movement #MeToo), international political pressure, as well as prominent harassment scandals such as a widely covered case involving world renowned Olympic wrestling athlete Kaori Icho seem to have accelerated the efforts of Japanese law makers to finally introduce a legal framework.
Japanese society and workplaces face a variety of forms of harassment, including mata hara (harassment of mothers using maternity leave), rimo hara (remote-work related harassment) and kasu hara (costumer harassment). For the sake of simplicity, this article will mainly focus on the revised anti-power harassment (workplace bullying) law following below structure:
- Definition of power harassment
- Increase in power harassment related complaints
- Issues arising from power harassment in the workplace
- What companies need to do under the new Power Harassment Prevention Act
What is power harassment?
Under the amended Act, any activity that fulfills the following 3 characteristics constitutes power harassment (in Japanese: pawa hara):
- Acts or speech taking advantage of the harasser’s position of authority
- Harming the workplace environment
- Beyond what is necessary or appropriate for work operation
This means that power harassment can not only be directed towards subordinates but also towards superiors. It can happen between colleagues as well as workers with different employee status such as permanent employees and contract workers.
Increase in power harassment related complaints
According to a survey by MHLW, consultation requests involving “workplace bullying” (power harassment) have increased threefold, from 28,000 cases in 2007 to around 87,000 cases in 2019.
The same survey also revealed that power harassment was the topic brought forward most often to companies’ internal consultation lines. In companies with more than 100 people, 55.8% of employee consultation requests involved power harassment, exceeding sexual harassment (19.5%) and mental health (30.7%) related requests.
The increase in power harassment complaints can most likely be attributed to a general rise in awareness towards the topic, due to continuous media coverage. Employees are now increasingly able to label behavior they might have tolerated in the past as harassment, and have also started to expect a proper response from management and HR. While not all of these consultation requests constitute power harassment, management and HR need to develop a solid understanding about the issue to eliminate the root cause for harassment complaints.
Issues arising from power harassment in the workplace
The survey of MHLW names “decrease of productivity”, “mental health issues” and “worsening of the workplace atmosphere” amongst others, as negative impacts of power harassment. Especially, mental health has become a serious issue for companies and power harassment cannot be overlooked as one of its main causes.
However, power harassment does not only negatively affect the health and performance of employees, it also increases the risk of damaging an organization’s brand and therefore alienating customers and consumers.
Last but not least, managers who might fear accusations of power harassment, will often refrain from properly managing and instructing their reports, another risk for any organization’s performance and ultimately its bottom line.
What companies need to do under the new Power Harassment Prevention Act (Amended Labor Policy General Promotion Act)
The Power Harassment Prevention Act came into force on May 29, 2020. From June 1, 2020 larger companies are required to implement the law. Small to mid-size companies are obliged to strengthen their anti-power harassment measures by April 2022.
Under the Power Harassment Prevention Act employers need to implement the following 3 measures:
- Provide a clear power harassment policy and ensure that employees understand it thoroughly.
- Implement a system to collect and respond properly to consultation requests brought forward by employees.
- Investigate and respond quickly and appropriately to any consultation request related to power harassment in the workplace.
1. Understanding and awareness of power harassment
Make sure that all employees have a solid and thorough understanding of:
- what constitutes power harassment and that it is prohibited in the workplace
- any measures and rules put in place to prevent power harassment and to notify and educate employees.
- Release a message from the president to announce the policy
- Create anti-harassment rules
- Conduct anti-harassment training
- To create a better work environment, management needs to lead the change and make clear to all employees that power harassment will not be tolerated.
- We recommend that the mandatory anti-harassment training is conducted by a neutral, experienced third-party who is knowledgeable about current policies and laws. Since HR will most likely be involved in any internal harassment cases, it may therefore not be considered a neutral source of information. By HR directly conducting training, they might create a sense of bias to employees, in cases of harassment accusations. In addition, some HR professionals might be hesitant to provide examples that do not constitute power harassment.
2. Implementing a consultation system and 3. Responding properly to claims of harassment
Companies are required to establish a consultation system and communicate the existence of such a system via email or town hall meetings, clearly to all employees.
If a claim is reported, the employer is obligated to investigate the case quickly and thoroughly with all parties involved, and to provide a solution that will prevent the harassment from happening again. To protect the employee who brought the accusation forward, privacy must be given highest priority.
- Establish a consultation line and make it known internally
- Establish a proper process to handle claims
- Arrange and attend power harassment prevention training with a third-party vendor
Many employers have established a consultation line for sexual harassment cases in the past and can now leverage this experience to implement a similar system for power harassment. However, when talking to clients, we notice that while many companies have made progress towards implementing the required processes, they have not been able to conduct training sessions, and to create awareness among employees. This may be due to the pandemic but may also be due to a lack of internal capability. And even for companies that have successfully conducted initial rounds of communication, they often struggle in providing regular training to new employees or regular refresher training to all workers.
Bespoke Anti-Power Harassment Training & Consulting
Through our partner network, Boyd & Moore offers 2 to 3hr online or in person training sessions that can be flexibly tailored to meet your company’s needs, and fully complies with the new Power Harassment Prevention Act. Our training includes group discussions and practice sessions enabling you to acquire in-depth knowledge about power harassment. Further, it helps all participants re-evaluate their own behavior and learn how to control their communication and emotions in order to create a better work environment.
- Results: Highly experienced trainer with deep understanding of difficulties around harassment prevention as well as broad repertoire of solutions.
- Customization: Choose the training goal that fits your organization best (e.g. behavior change). Also, incorporate your individual work rules in the training.
- Flexibility: Place (online/offline), time (1-4 hours) and style (group or individual) for the training can be adjusted to your needs.
- Speed: Fast implementation and delivery of the training.
Voices from Training Participants
“I enjoyed the training a lot and will try to apply what I’ve learned as much as possible in my daily management practice. It’s not just about improving individual relationships but also modeling behavior to other managers and colleagues.”
“It was mandated by the company, so I wasn’t too excited. However, it turned out to be a great training and made me re-think some of my own behaviors.”
If you would like to learn more about what we can do to help you create a harassment-free workplace, get in touch!