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Family of alleged power harassment suicide victim criticize punishment as 'too mild'

The head of the Shizuoka Prefectural Government's Administrative Management Section, left, and others announce that a victim of power harassment took their own life and offers apologies at the Shizuoka Prefecture Government on Jan. 18, 2019. (Mainichi/Nobuyuki Shimada)

SHIZUOKA -- An executive of the prefectural government's Transportation Infrastructure Department was handed a pay cut on Jan. 18 for allegedly harassing a subordinate who took their own life on March 2017, but the bereaved family says the punishment is "too mild."

According to the Shizuoka Prefectural Government, the 59-year-old boss inflicted psychological distress on the government official for three months with his behavior considered as power harassment. Although the executive has explained that he "had no intention" of harassing the victim, the prefectural government acknowledged that the man's behavior was related to the suicide and cut his pay by 10 percent for three months.

The Shizuoka Prefectural Government has not specified the subordinate's sex, age or the department assigned at the time, in order to comply with the "wishes of the bereaved family." Meanwhile, the family is currently applying for the Fund for Local Government Employees' Accident Compensation. When informed about the policy on the punishment, the family pointed out that it was too mild and filled them with "anger against the prefectural government and not just over the harassment itself."

The prefectural government launched an internal investigation upon being told by the bereaved family soon after the suicide that power harassment had occurred. The government official had recorded exchanges he had with the executive and the family submitted the data to the Shizuoka Prefectural Government last April. The prefectural government set up an investigative committee including lawyers in July after checking five days' worth of recordings and confirming the verbal abuse. The committee conducted interviews with co-workers as part of the investigation.

According to the results of the probe, the 59-year-old executive criticized the subordinate's ability by repeating abusive remarks such as the government official "is of no use" and "ruins everything when working alone." Such remarks were made in front of other co-workers from January to early March in 2017, when the executive worked as a supervisor at the local agency. Furthermore, the man verbally attacked the subordinate with words including, "It's so tiring (to guide you)," and, "It's no good if you can't write in Japanese," while giving one-on-one guidance on documents created by the government official.

The investigative committee confirmed that there was power harassment upon deciding that 19 cases of verbal abuse and other actions were either defamation, attacks on one's personality or unnecessary guidance. "I couldn't control myself when I became angry," the executive was quoted as saying. He is said to have explained, "I thought I was being careful, but there is a possibility that I could have made an inappropriate remark."

The head of the Shizuoka Prefectural Government's Administrative Management Section apologized in a Jan. 18 press conference, "I am deeply sorry for causing significant trouble to the victim and the bereaved family." However, when met with questions doubting the appropriateness of the punishment, he replied, "I believe it is the right decision."

Masaomi Kaneko, president of the Tokyo-based Workplace Harassment Research Institute, pointed out, "It's become mainstream since about five or six years ago to either include power harassment in the disciplinary code for sexual harassment or to create a separate disciplinary code." Kaneko added that "it's a shame that the prefectural government didn't deal with the case before the suicide occurred, because it is possible that the co-workers knew about the harassment." He also stated that the Shizuoka Prefectural Government was slow to release details on the case.

(Japanese original by Nobuyuki Shimada and Yukina Furukawa, Shizuoka Bureau)

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