Harassed for Taking Paternity Leave
SNA (Tokyo) — Despite Japan’s generous allowance for childcare leave, many parents are pressured and even punished by their employers for taking advantage of it. Glen Wood, a single father and victim of paternity harassment, has taken his case to court in an attempt to regain his job and bring awareness to the issue of harassment in the workplace.
Before the chain of events which led to his harassment and eventual termination, Wood relates that he was a Managing Director at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley. He had begun his employment in 2012. An exceptional employee and leader of a global team of salespeople, Wood demonstrated his qualifications for the position by doubling the company’s revenues within a short period of time. He had received consistently high employee evaluations prior to his harassment.
Upon discovering that he was to become a father, Wood, according to his own account, took the necessary steps to inform his company that he intended to take paternity leave. When first requesting this leave in August 2015, his employer said that they did not offer such a program and promptly denied it.
Knowing that paid paternity leave is guaranteed by the Japanese government–new parents can take up to twelve months to care for their child, yet only 6% of fathers choose to do so–Wood consulted a lawyer and applied once again in October 2015.
He says he was told that Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley did offer parental leave, but that he did not qualify to take it; his employers said that he needed a “maternal handbook” to take his paternity leave, a document which was impossible for him to have since he was not a pregnant woman.
Wood’s plans to gain what was guaranteed to him by law were accelerated on October 26 when his son was born six weeks prematurely in a hospital overseas; the child had been placed on life support in the neonatal intensive care unit and was at risk of not surviving. While Wood’s first reaction was to take a flight to the hospital and to take care of his family, his sense of duty to his job compelled him to go to work early and give notice to his supervisor.
“I thought, ‘I must do the right thing, I must do the proper Japanese thing’… To my shock and my dismay, even to this day, I was greeted with: ‘Don’t worry, the field of medicine is very advanced. He’ll be fine. Get back to work,’” recalled Wood when he informed his supervisor. Wood requested paternity leave one last time and was rejected again.
Wood decided to take leave without the blessing of his superiors, meaning that he was regarded as “absent without official leave.”
Despite wanting to divert all of his time to his son, Wood still communicated with clients and his team so as not to halt all productivity. It is at this point that the bulk of his harassment began.
Upon his return in March 2016, Wood found a very different workplace environment from the one he left. He says that his position as managing director was stripped away, and with it the salary and benefits that the title entailed. During his absence, his supervisors told his team that he was no longer to be trusted, and as time went on he was cut out from meetings altogether.
“By taking paternity leave I had, even temporarily, prioritized my family over my job. This goes against a very longstanding tradition at many of Japan’s biggest and oldest firms. You marry your company, not your family,” explained Wood regarding the reasoning behind his harassment.
Assigned to a menial position and insulted by his coworkers and supervisors daily, Wood clung to the hope of having his job returned to him. Despite exceptional performance and strong evaluations during this time, he was awarded no bonus and was told that he was not ready to assume the responsibilities that he had once held.
Wood had contacted lawyers during this time, insisting that he was being harassed by the company, and he decided to sue in an attempt to get his previous post as managing director back.
After biding his time in a secretarial position while his court case developed, Wood was fired on April 4, 2018. The reason given by the company was that he had supposedly lied about being harassed.
The following video created by Wood, which explained his situation last month, he declared, “It was nothing less than psychological torture.” His video garnered a significant amount of support from other parents who have suffered similar harassment.
As it stands now, Wood is still waiting for his court date.
His reason for continuing this difficult fight, he says, is that, “I just want them to admit their wrongdoing and promise to change their corporate culture.”
With Japan facing a serious birth shortage, cases like these highlight a significant problem within the country’s workplaces. If young parents continue to face parental harassment from employers, their hesitance to have children will only be amplified by societal pressure to divert all of their time to work.
“In a time when Japan needs Japanese and non-Japanese workers, this strategy inhibits attracting the best talent. Simply put, young workers with families will increasingly steer away from companies that don’t have programs for working parents and their children,” explains Wood.
A ruling that is in favor of Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley would only serve to perpetuate this cycle of harassment that many Japanese and non-Japanese workers face on a daily basis, but a victory for Wood would be a victory for all of those who suffer in silence and could bring about much-needed change.
“Harassment is never an acceptable form of management,” Wood concludes, “With over thirty words now in the Japanese language describing various types of harassment, isn’t it time to focus on a solution?”
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