Japan ad agency warned about overwork after employee's suicide

PHOTO: Reuters

Major advertising agency Dentsu Inc. was issued an advisory by a local labour standards inspection office to correct its practice of forcing staff to work long hours in August last year, four months before a female employee's heavy workload led to her suicide, it has been learned.

Dentsu's head office in Minato Ward, Tokyo, received the administrative directive over violations of the Labor Standards Law from the Mita Labor Standards Inspection Office, which covers the ward, according to the company.

The main office was where newly hired Matsuri Takahashi, then 24, had worked until she jumped to her death in December.

The Tokyo Labor Bureau is looking into the case, suspecting that Dentsu left the illegal overtime practice unaddressed even after the advisory was issued.

Dentsu and its labour union signed a deal setting the maximum overtime hours at 70 per month, but the labour standards inspection office recognised that the company forced overtime exceeding the limit on staff illegally when it issued the directive.

The advisory prompted Dentsu to set days with no overtime work and encourage employees to take paid holidays.

"As a result, we had no employee [whose overtime working hours] exceeded the limit as of October last year, and we have remained committed to making sure the measure is implemented," the company told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

According to a lawyer for Takahashi's bereaved family, however, she was given a heavy workload in October last year soon after being formally hired, following a six-month probationary period that started in April.

Takahashi is believed to have developed depression the following month, before eventually taking her own life by jumping from an employee dormitory on Dec. 25.

In September, the Mita Labor Standards Inspection Office recognised Takahashi's death as work-related, saying the suicide was triggered by a mental disorder she suffered due to her long working hours.

The office also recognised that her overtime hours totaled about 105 hours for the month until she developed depression.

In contrast, Dentsu's records showed that Takahashi's overtime hours stood at 69.9 hours for October last year and 69.5 hours for the following month.

Her bereaved family said she was told by her boss to report those hours to fall within the maximum limit, suggesting that the practice of illegal overtime continued at the ad agency even after it was issued the directive.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry conducted on-site investigations at Dentsu's head office, three branch offices and other related locations until Tuesday.

The ministry will issue additional advisories if it finds any more illegal practices, and is also considering sending papers to prosecutors over violations of the Labor Standards Law if they are deemed highly serious.

Read also: Filipino died from 'overwork' in 2014: Japan Labor Ministry

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