This April new regulations approved by the Japanese parliament will come into force containing a work/life balance measure that will restrict the number of overtime hours of Japanese workers. 

236 deaths caused by Karoshi (death from overwork) and 208 suicides caused by Karojisatsu (mental health problems arising at the workplace) have raised the alarm within the Japanese government, which has been looking at measures to curtail this serious public health problem in recent years.

After a survey conducted by the government itself showed that around 20% of employees worked at least 80 overtime hours a month, in 2016 the country launched a voluntary measure known as “Premium Friday”, an incentive to companies to allow their employees to leave work early on the last Friday of every month. Despite this, only 11% of employees took part in the initiative.

Faced with the poor results achieved, the Japanese government then decided to redesign their measures to cut overtime hours and improve the work/life balance of its citizens. So, in mid-2017, the Japanese government proposed another voluntary measure known as “shining Monday” attempting to encourage companies to give workers one Monday off a month.

Those proposals were not the only Japanese calls for help. In May 2017, the Japanese parliament approved a labor reform which placed a 100-hour limit on monthly overtime. It exempted highly qualified individuals or senior positions from this ceiling, however, which has not escaped criticism.

That labor reform will come into force in April 2019, for large companies, and in 2020, for small and medium sized companies. Despite this, the results of an opinion poll conducted in recent months highlight that around 40% of Japanese people do not believe that the legislative amendment is going to improve their circumstances at work, and some even believe that this way of life is a cultural matter.

This is even more striking when compared with Spanish rules, for example. The Workers’ Statute allows up to 80 overtime hours a year. There is also a raft of measures related to work/life balance, notably the right of employees to disconnect (digital disconnection) -introduced with the recent entry into force of Organic Law 3/2018, of December 5, 2018 on data protection and safeguarding digital rights-. On top of this, Royal Decree-Law 8/2019, on urgent social protection measures and to combat precarious work in relation to working time, requires the hours worked by every worker to be recorded daily to monitor their working time, and consequently, their overtime; which is a long way from happening in the short term in Japan.

This all makes you wonder whether we will ever be talking about the Japanese right to disconnect.


Sofía Espizúa

Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department