Power Harassment? Employee Monitoring by the Minute
Power harassment, or workplace bullying, has been gaining attention in recent years. The Special Mission News Crew received a report from a reader who stated that she had been under surveillance by her supervisor and co-workers. She revealed that they had even recorded the number of times she had gone to, as well as the amount of time she had spent in, the bathroom. The company explains that it was for "labor management," but does this not constitute power harassment?
“I was the only one who was placed under surveillance, and it was agonizing,” says the woman in her forties who lives in Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture. She worked at a branch office of a pharmaceutical company from August 2014 to December 2017.
According to this woman, unpaid overtime work was the norm at her office, and the branch manager would go as far as declaring that "Sābisu zangyo(unpaid overtime) is our tradition." After some protesting, she was eventually paid for her overtime work, but this lead to a strained relationship between her and her co-workers. They began to harass her together, claiming, “You can’t do your job. You’re completely useless” and not serving her tea during breaks. The stress from this treatment led her to develop irritable bowel syndrome, which caused her to frequent the bathroom.
Her “surveillance” began soon after that. A co-worker made a chart of the times and frequency she spent in the bathroom and sent it to other employees at both the branch office and headquarters. What was more, from January to November 2017, the branch manager had had a different co-worker report back on all of her activity.
Ultimately, the company handed the woman a notice of dismissal in December 2017 and immediately filed a case to the labor tribunal to confirm the validity of her termination. It was in that process that the “weekly reports” on the woman’s activities were exhibited as evidence.
The “weekly reports” that recorded the woman’s behavior in the office. She was monitored by the minute, and entries include “leaving her desk” or “writing in her planner.”
The “weekly reports” not only recorded the durations the woman had been away from her desk, but they also noted her activities by the minute, including entries such as “staring at the calendar while stuffing tissues in her nose” and “texting on her cell phone.” The reports also attached pictures of her desk calendar, which she had also used to note her private schedule, and they also described attempts to figure out with whom she was talking to on her cell phone or what she was doing after work. The woman says that she had not been aware that she was being monitored.
The company informed us that “it was necessary and appropriate to monitor her, as she would leave her desk for extended periods of time during work hours, which is against company policy. It was not like we monitored her private life at all hours.” It also stated that there had been complaints regarding the woman’s work attitude, which did not improve despite being reprimanded, which is why it had directed her co-workers to report details on her. On the other hand, the company did admit that “it was wrong” to share her bathroom schedule within the company.
The result of the labor tribunal was not released, as the company withdrew its petition afterwards.
Gazing at the “weekly reports,” this woman says that she “became ill for being monitored at work.”
According to the report released by the Expert Review Committee of the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, power harassment is defined as “behavior that utilizes one’s superiority, such as status, beyond reasonable means to cause emotional and physical distress to an employee or deteriorates the working environment.”
Kouji Morioka, expert in labor issues and professor emeritus at Kansai University, states that the woman's case is “highly unusual.” He explains that “there are incidents in which the time that employees used to get dressed into or out of company uniforms or smoke was deducted from their working hours, but in this case, they caused emotional distress to the woman. It exceeds the limit of what is necessary, and this is surely an act of power harassment.”
However, the difference between power harassment and administrative orders is quite ambiguous.
The “general labor section” that is stationed in labor bureaus throughout Japan received approximately 70,900 reports on power harassment in 2016. However, not all of them were necessarily power harassment; in fact, some of them were based on logical management reasons. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s Harassment Prevention Office confessed that “there is no legal definition of power harassment and labor laws also do not have restrictions on controlling these situations."
Shinichi Sakamoto, director of the specified nonprofit corporation in Tokyo, Rōdōsha wo Mamoru Kai, told us that “power harassment is even harder to define than sexual harassment, as it depends on the scale of the company, how the harassed person feels, and the position of the harasser. We need to consider how to solve each case according to each situation, to create a power harassment-free workplace.”
分刻み“監視”はパワハラ？ トイレの回数・時間も社内で共有 会社側「労務管理のため」