Maternity Harassment: A Novelty in Japan

On 23 October 2014, the First Petty Bench of the Supreme Court of Japan announced its very first decision on “maternity harassment” (discrimination against employees based on pregnancy, childbirth, and child care). The Supreme Court reversed a decision made by the Hiroshima High Court, which had ruled that there was no maternity harassment, and remanded the case to the Hiroshima High Court for further review. While press reports indicated this as a “win” for the employee, since the case is still ongoing, the standards set forth by the Supreme Court (while strict), do not prohibit demotion when an employee receives permission to lighten work duties due to maternity reasons, if there is a valid business need or sincere consent. Thus, this development in the area of law on maternity protection is expected to raise the bar of accountability for taking measures which are detrimental to the employee at a time when the employee requires maternity protection.

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