Japanese employment contracts

Your rights and responsibilities

Japanese contracts spell out all the details of employment in black and white, but foreigners should know that employer expectations and office culture sometimes differ from the fine print.

Contracts in Japan are drawn up according to the Japanese Labour Standards Law. They confirm all the details specific to employment: salary, overtime, holidays – also any notice requirements. Since Japanese workers rely heavily on public transportation (especially in major cities like Tokyo), contracts often include an allowance for public transportation costs.

Most employment contracts must be renewed each year, though permanent contracts are offered. Foreigners are less likely to be offered permanent contracts, however, as they tend not to remain in Japan or with the same company for a lifetime of employment.

Job contracts versus the reality of the work place

There are major differences in Japan between what is legally outlined in the Labour Standards Law and what is common practice in the work place. In many respects, Japan´s labour regulation has outpaced cultural change. According to the law, for example, no employer may force an employee to work more than eight hours a day. In reality, however, Japanese employees face extreme pressure to work overtime hours and not to claim their overtime pay.

Similarly, Japanese workers rarely take all of their allotted holidays (according to the law they have to be given a minimum of 10 days per year).

This disconnect between law and practice does not usually extend to foreign employees, but some familiarity with labour laws is recommended in case an issue should arise. Consult the Foreigners Employment Service Centre  for more information.

Most Japanese workplaces have unions that can help answer questions and resolve disputes. Foreigners must be members in order to receive union help, of course, and it is nearly impossible to become a member without considerable Japanese language ability. Also, many unions may hesitate to allow foreign membership no matter the level of Japanese.

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