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Toyota president apologizes to family of employee who killed self after harassment

Toyota Motor Corp. headquarters is seen in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in this April 2020 photo. (Mainichi)

The president of global auto giant Toyota Motor Corp. apologized in person to the family of an employee who took his own life in 2017, after recognizing that his suicide had been caused by an adjustment disorder stemming from harassment by his superior, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    The automaker pledged to adopt thorough measures to prevent a recurrence and agreed to pay compensation to the bereaved family, in a reconciliation reached by the two parties on April 7. The move was revealed by the family's attorney and Toyota, though the settlement amount has not been made public.

    Toyota had earlier denied a causal relationship between power harassment and the then 28-year-old man's suicide, based on an in-house investigation launched after his death. The Aichi Labor Bureau's Toyota Labor Standards Inspection Office, however, ruled in favor of the family in September 2019, recognizing that the case was eligible for workers' compensation.

    Shortly after the labor office's decision, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda visited the employee's family, and acknowledged the causal relationship between harassment and the suicide. When the settlement was subsequently reached, President Toyoda once again apologized to the family in person, and told them, "We will continue to improve recurrence prevention measures while keeping your son in our memory, and transform Toyota."

    According to the family, the worker was assigned to the vehicle design department at the automaker's headquarters in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, in March 2016 after earning a graduate degree from the University of Tokyo and company training. He was scolded by his immediate boss, with rebukes such as "You're stupid," "You're an idiot," and "You'd better die." From July that year, the employee took a three-month leave of absence, and was diagnosed with adjustment disorder.

    Despite the abusive language and other forms of harassment, the automaker did not share the reason for his absence internally. When he returned to his job, he was even made to sit near the very manager who had harassed him. He gradually began to confide to those around him that he wanted to die. In October 2017, he took his own life in his room at a company dormitory. After his death, his family complained to the firm that he had persistent symptoms of trauma due to his adjustment disorder.

    Out of consideration for the family's intentions and other factors, Toyota Motor Corp. launched a fresh in-house investigation, and recognized that the firm breached its duty of care for safety by failing to deal with the superior in question. In response to the steps taken by the firm, the family accepted a reconciliation proposal without bringing the case to court.

    Several recurrence prevention measures were included in the settlement terms. As part of the steps, the carmaker has set up a consultation desk for anonymous whistleblowers. If it uncovers a power harassment case, it will conduct a careful investigation alongside third-party lawyers. The company also agreed to report its progress on addressing harassment to the family over the next five years.

    A written response Toyota Motor Corp. sent to the family of an employee who took his own life in 2017. In the papers dated October 2018, the automaker recognized a causal relationship between power harassment and his leave of absence, but denied a connection between the harassment and his suicide.

    "Power harassment ruins the lives of individuals and the people around them. The company needs to make earnest efforts to improve its workplace environment," the family said in a statement released via their attorney Yoshihide Tachino, of the Osaka Bar Association.

    Tachino commented, "The measures (laid out by Toyota) can be praised for adopting the opinions of the bereaved family and showing the company's resolution to forbid power harassment. I hope other companies will use them as a reference."

    Toyota Motor Corp. released a statement saying, "We take seriously the fact that the precious life of our employee has been lost, and will ensure recurrence prevention measures are thoroughly taken, while keeping this pain in mind for the rest of our lives."

    (Japanese original by Fumie Togami, Otsu Bureau, and Shiho Matsumoto, Osaka City News Department)

    ***

    -- Suicide prevention hotline in Japan with English support

    TELL Japan (English): https://telljp.com/

    Telephone hotline: 03-5774-0992 (Daily)

    Online chat: https://telljp.com/lifeline/tell-chat/

    Counseling inquiries: 03-4550-1146 (Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.)

    A selection of emergency numbers with multilingual support is also provided at the bottom of their home page.

    *Operating hours for the telephone hotline and online chat depend on the day and are subject to change. Check the Facebook page linked below for up-to-date information:

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