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Editorial: Toyota suicide highlights corporate managers' duty to end power harassment

Toyota Motor Corp. has acknowledged that the suicide of a young employee was caused by a superior's power harassment. President Akio Toyoda has apologized, and reached a settlement with the deceased's family after pledging to prevent another such incident from happening again.

    In recent years, suicides by young employees enduring long hours and power harassment have taken place at major companies including Dentsu Inc. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. To root out acts of power harassment, companies must change their ways of thinking.

    The Toyota employee was repeatedly excoriated by a superior, leading him to develop an adjustment disorder and take time off from work. Although senior managerial staff were aware of the power harassment, there was no adequate investigation, and the individual was made to work near the same superior upon returning to work. The handling of the situation was clearly problematic.

    With the Labor Standards Inspection Office recognizing that the case qualifies for workers' compensation, Toyota has acknowledged the facts, and has drawn up plans to prevent a recurrence.

    The firm is reportedly promoting efforts such as reflecting the opinions of subordinates in managerial employees' evaluations, and offering support to people returning to work by having specialized doctors interview affected individuals and superiors during the process.

    The power harassment prevention law that went into force in 2020 requires major companies to establish consultation services among other measures. If they neglect to put together countermeasures, they can be subject to administrative guidance.

    But the efficacy of the policy is in question.

    The results of a fact-finding survey announced by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in March showed that just 5.4% of employees subject to power harassment had sought advice from the consultation desks at their place of work. Another 35.9% said they did nothing.

    Many give up on the measures due to concerns the situation could worsen further if details of their consultations were leaked, and a feeling that speaking to the company wouldn't solve the problem.

    It is hard to confirm harassment that goes on behind closed doors. To stop victims becoming isolated, colleagues, family and labor unions need to accept their concerns. Partnering with external experts such as lawyers is also indispensable.

    Power harassment cases are often triggered by demanding management targets and managers' lack of ability. At Toshiba Corp. and Japan Post Insurance Co., excessive demands from management led to an increased burden in the workplace, and consequently to dishonesty.

    The issue appears to be getting more serious: among the labor-related consultations fielded by the government, those concerning bullying and harassment including power harassment have risen by 40% over the past five years.

    Corporate governance is under scrutiny. Managerial staff must reflect on the lessons up to now, and quickly prepare working environments that employees can feel safe in.

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