Are Japanese firms using banishment rooms to get rid of unwanted employees?

Earlier in the year, it was reported that the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare was investigating a number of the country’s most prominent companies including Panasonic, NEC, Sony and Sharp for the morally dubious practice of setting up euphemistic business units with the primary purpose of creating an office where they could send unwanted or poorly performing employees to demoralise them and drive them ultimately to resign. Last week the Japan Daily Press blog published more information about these so-called banishment rooms or oidashi-beya, claiming that  workers are forced to spend ten hours a day performing tedious and menial tasks until they decide to leave.

Features such as this in the Japan Times suggest that the existence and operations of such things are an open secret. Obviously the firms deny such things take place but it seems feasible that Japan’s strict laws relating to making full time employees redundant may steer some firms to take such unethical steps

As this blogger points out, “in Japan it is nearly impossible to fire or layoff a single full time employee without overcoming huge legal hurdles.

  1. Necessity
    The company must prove that its business circumstances are such that redundancies are unavoidable and necessary.
  2. Effort to avoid redundancy
    The company must prove that it has made serious managerial efforts to avoid redundancies such as by re-assigning staff and advertising for voluntary redundancies.
  3. Reasonable selection
    The company must prove that the standards by which it selected those to be made redundant are reasonable, and that redundancies were carried out fairly.
  4. Reasonable process
    The company must prove that it conducted sufficient consultations with workers and labor unions.

It takes incredible amounts of time and effort to do the above and even then you still have a legal risk of being sued by the fired employee.  The above burdens are high and it can be a challenge to prove that you took “all possible steps. So it’s much easier to encourage employees to voluntarily take early retirement or a severance package and leave on their own.”