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Japanese employee's suicide recognized as workplace accident tied to excessive overtime

The wife of Tomoo Oizumi is seen holding her husband's car keys, which she carries with her as an amulet, on Nov. 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Fumie Togami)

A local labor standards inspection office has recognized the suicide of a then 43-year-old employee of machine tool manufacturer Sodick Co. in 2017 as a workplace accident caused by depression due to long working hours, according to those close to the matter.

    Tomoo Oizumi had put in 123 hours of overtime work in the month prior to his death. The threshold for ruling a case as death from overwork is 80 hours of overtime per month. Five days prior to his death, the man was questioned severely by a boss about some wrongdoing he wasn't involved in, which the Matsumoto Labor Standards Inspection Office in Nagano Prefecture pointed out could have triggered his suicide.

    The labor standards office recognized the suicide as a workplace accident on Jan. 31, 2020. According to lawyer Yutaka Iwaki representing the bereaved family and others, Oizumi was in charge of machine repairs and maintenance at the Matsumoto sales office at Sodick, which is headquartered in Yokohama and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's first section.

    In May 2016, the man began to do work usually handled by two people by himself after a colleague was transferred, and it became normal for him to put in many hours of overtime.

    During an in-house meeting on April 21, 2017, Oizumi was accused of forging a record of his visits to business partners to fraudulently demand overtime pay. The man was severely questioned by his boss over and over again. Although he was cleared of suspicion after another employee checked the location information on his mobile phone, his boss did not offer an apology.

    On April 26 of the same year, Oizumi disappeared with his eldest daughter Ena, aged 7 at the time. Their bodies were found in a passenger car parked on a forest road in the town of Oguni, Yamagata Prefecture, on May 7. As traces of burnt charcoal were found inside the vehicle, it is suspected that Oizumi died in a murder-suicide on the evening of April 26.

    The labor standards office recognized that Oizumi developed depression in early April that year. He had put in more than 80 hours of overtime work a month in four of the six months prior to his death.

    The labor standards office pointed out that Oizumi suffered from a strong phycological burden because he was in charge of work that was normally done by two people. Though it did not make a judgement on the meeting in which the man was severely questioned by his boss, as the incident was considered to have occurred after Oizumi developed depression, an expert committee added, "It's highly likely that it may have been one of the reasons for his suicide."

    The company subsequently agreed to pay settlement money and achieved reconciliation with the bereaved family in July 2021. However, it has not announced that the incident was recognized as a workplace accident, and has not offered a direct apology to the bereaved family.

    Sodick told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We would like to express our deepest apologies and condolences to the bereaved family. We will consider measures to prevent a recurrence and implement them."

    (Japanese original by Fumie Togami, Otsu Bureau)

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