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Coronavirus: Notice for Employers in Japan

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With the recent increase in the number of people infected with the novel Coronavirus, extra efforts are required by authorities and citizens in Japan to prevent the spread of the virus. With many public events recently being cancelled and people being encouraged to avoid crowding, the government of Japan has encouraged citizens to comply with recently updated regulations and notices. As such, many businesses have also stepped up measures in an effort to protect the health of their employees. Although practices may differ from employer to employer, there are certain obligations that must be adhered to during this special period. 

Employer Obligations in Japan

Japan’s primary employment legislation, the Labour Contracts Act, stipulates that an employer has a contractual duty to maintain the safety of its employees and provide and appropriate work environment. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, alternative arrangements including working from home, implementing temperate checks in the workplace and rescheduling business trips are thus justified and are in line with maintaining this obligation and commitment to the health and safety of employees.

We recommend that employers in Japan closely monitor the situation and remain up to date with notifications from the Japanese authorities in order to make reasonable adjustments for the safety of all employees.

Employment measures in Japan

Remote work policy

An employer can direct an employee to work from home if there is a risk that having the employee go to the office creates a risk to the health and safety of themselves and that of other employees. It is important for employers to be aware that if an employee is required to work from home or remotely, he/she should continue to receive his/her full salary and benefits.

If the employee is required to remain at home as a precaution but the nature of their work prevents them from working remotely, it would be in the best interests of both parties to pay the employee his/her regular salary during the temporary suspension period. From an employer’s perspective, this would protect the company in the event the employee makes a breach of contract claim.

Paid/Unpaid leave

It is not permitted for employers to force employees to take paid or unpaid leave as this may be against the statutory or contractual rights of the employee. If an employer wishes for an employee to take such leave, they must obtain written consent from the employee with regards to any arrangement.

Travel advisories/restrictions

In terms of business travel or travel to and from work, employers may place restrictions on their employees in line with their obligation and commitment to maintaining the health and safety of their workforce.  However, employers should not attempt to limit the personal travel of their employees as this measure would be regarded as an inappropriate invasion of their private life. A practical solution to this would be for employers to require their employees to report information about their travel plans to any destination regarded as risky. The employer may, when necessary, ask the employee to work at home for a reasonable period of time as a precautionary measure.

Current practice among Japan employers

Japan has one of the highest recorded numbers of confirmed Coronavirus cases outside of mainland China. A number of employers, including the Nippon Telegraph & Telephone group who employ roughly 200,000 people across Japan, have instructed their staff to work from home in an attempt to maintain their employees’ health and safety during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Many employers in the country have also restricted business travel to mainland China, with some completely banning business travel to Wuhan and Hubei province.

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