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Labor bureau inspects Dentsu over overwork-induced suicide of employee

Officials of the Tokyo Labor Bureau and the Mita Labor Standards Inspection Office enter the headquarters of Dentsu Inc. in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 14, 2016, for a compulsory inspection. (Mainichi)

Labor authorities have begun conducting a compulsory inspection of major advertising agency Dentsu Inc. after a labor standards inspection office recognized that the suicide of a newly hired employee late last year was induced by her overwork, officials said.

The Tokyo Labor Bureau and the Mita Labor Standards Inspection Office jointly raided the ad agency on the afternoon of Oct. 14 under the Labor Standards Act.

After confirming that the company had forced employees to perform over 70 hours of overtime a month, which is not permitted under the labor-management agreement, the authorities will recommend that the company rectify its labor practices. If the authorities deem the company's practices are extremely inappropriate, the bureau and inspection office will consider urging prosecutors to build up a criminal case against the firm.

Dentsu first came under fire over its working hours after an employee in his second year with the company committed overwork-induced suicide in 1991.

Labor authorities decided to conduct a compulsory inspection on the company after deeming the company has failed to put lessons learned from the previous case to good use to prevent such suicides. The Labor Standards Act empowers labor standards inspectors to check companies involved in allegedly illegitimate labor practices, order such firms to submit labor-related documents and question employers and employees.

Matsuri Takahashi, 24, whose suicide has been recently recognized as work-related, joined Dentsu in April 2015, and took her own life on Dec. 25.

The labor standards inspection office confirmed last month that Takahashi suffered depression after her overtime had increased by over 2.5 times that of the previous month due to an extremely sharp increase in her workload, leading her to kill herself.

The inspection office recognized that she worked 105 hours of overtime a month before her death. However, a lawyer for Takahashi's bereaved family calculated her overtime based on her records of entering and leaving Dentsu headquarters, and concluded that she worked up to 130 hours of overtime per month. Labor authorities typically recognize health damage suffered by workers who performed overtime work exceeding 80 hours a month as work-related.

According to the lawyer for Takahashi's family, Dentsu had instructed employees not to log over 70 hours of overtime a month. Takahashi complied and logged 69.9 hours of overtime in October last year, and 69.5 hours the following month.

The labor bureau is paying close attention to this fact as a possible violation of labor laws.

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