‘A warning to corporate Japan’: Tokyo firm pays out $700k for overworked employee death
Kota Watanabe, 24, was killed in a road accident while driving home from an overnight shift in 2014. During the subsequent case, presiding Judge Hidechika Hashimoto said the company bore some responsibility for its employees’ safe return home after finishing work and urged Green Display Co. to settle with the grieving family.
Hashimoto also took the opportunity to draw yet more attention to the increasing problem in Japanese society of “karo-jikoshi” or death from accidents relating to overwork.
“This case should serve as momentum for wider recognition of the karo-jikoshi category as a labor-related accident, and spurring sufficient measures taken in society toward the prevention of karo-jikoshi, as well as ‘karoshi’ (death from overwork) and ‘karo-jisatsu’ (suicide from overwork),” Hashimoto said, as cited by The Asahi Shimbun.
The family were awarded 76 million yen ($700,000) in a settlement reached in the Yokohama District Court on February 8. The case was described as a rare example of Japan’s legal system making a case on behalf of workers rights, according to the Watanabe family’s lawyer Takuya Kawagishi.
Watanabe was driving home after finishing a midnight shift on the morning of April 24, 2014 when his motorbike struck a utility pole. His mother Junko filed a lawsuit against his employer Green Display Co. the following year, claiming that her son had been overworked and his long shifts had led to his untimely death.
Judge Hashimoto said the accident was a result of Watanabe falling asleep while driving. The company acknowledging that he was indeed in a “state of overwork” and should have been told to find alternative means of traveling home.
Following Watanabe’s death, the company instituted a mandatory 11-hour gap between shifts to afford employees sufficient time to rest. Green Display Co. now also requires midnight shift workers to take taxis home after work. RT.com has contacted Green Display Co. for an official statement on the case.
“I hope that other companies will also take sufficient preventive measures against karo-jikoshi,” Junko Watanabe told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo on February 8, as cited by Asahi Shimbun.
Shigeru Wakita, head professor of labor law at Ryukoku University, described the case as “epoch-making,” adding that it will “serve as a warning to other firms.”
“(In this case), the presiding judge emphasized the overwork he was engaged in until immediately before the accident, and said the company had a duty to pay consideration to his safety, even in the case of an accident that he himself caused on his way home,” Wakita said.
“Karoshi” has been a major problem in Japanese society since the 1950s. A 2016 survey of 10,000 Japanese firms found that in more than 20 percent of those surveyed, employees were clocking in more than 80 hours overtime per month.
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