‘Worked to death’: Japanese restaurant pays out $500,000 after manager commits suicide
The 58 million yen in damages will be paid out by the company and its two officials to the man’s parents, according to the Tokyo District Court ruling against Sun Challenge, a steakhouse chain.
"With only one holiday given to him every several months, the psychological load of prolonged work and power harassment caused his mental disorder," Judge Akira Yamada told reporters, according to a Kyodo News report.
The 24-year-old man took his life in November 2010, having worked at the restaurant for three years. He was appointed manager in July 2009, and began doing an average of 190 hours overtime each month, taking just two days off in the entire period.
It also transpired that the suicide victim had incurred verbal attacks and even physical violence from his supervisor.
A lawyer for the man’s parents has called the ruling “epoch-making” in the way that it shines a light on problems of harassment at work. He also says the investigation had found nothing that would justify the ill-treatment the victim received at the hands of his employers.
"This is a ruling that encourages workers suffering from prolonged work and power harassment,” said the lawyer, who was not named in the Kyodo News report.
Japan is well known for its extremely strong work ethic, and a prevalent culture of working oneself into an early grave from mental and physical strain, causing illness. There is even a special term for this – “karoshi” – which translates as “death by overwork.”
The expression only entered common parlance relatively recently – in the 1980s, when the number of suicides or premature deaths caused by overworking spiked.
Although the court ruled in the family’s favor in this particular case, an October 2013 court case ended quite differently: the Supreme Court refused requests by activists to release the names of companies whose employees had died from overwork.
The problem of death from overwork in Japan is believed to be greater than official statistics show, as some families are said to suffer such deaths silently and without seeking any reparations, while companies ready to take responsibility in such cases are few in number.