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Saitama labor office recognizes death of Inageya employee as case of ‘karoshi’

Kyodo

A 42-year-old supermarket employee who died of a stroke in 2014 has been recognized by labor authorities as a victim of karoshi, or death from overwork, although his average monthly overtime hours clocked in at less than the 80-hour official threshold, a level said to cause serious health consequences.

The man who worked at the Inageya supermarket chain in Shiki, Saitama Prefecture, died from cerebral infarction. His death was recognized last June by the Saitama labor standard office as karoshi, his family said Monday.

His family had argued the man had been working overtime without pay before and after he punched his time card. The labor office reviewed his entrance and exit records and partially accepted the family’s claim.

The labor office recognized that the man had been racking up overtime at an average of around 76 hours over four months before he became sick and died, deemed within a comparable range of the 80-hour average cap not to be exceeded within a two- to six-month period.

The office also flagged the man’s unspecified working hours, which included having to work irregular shifts. His longest monthly overtime reached close to 96 hours.

On Monday, the man’s parents sent notification to the company seeking compensation of ¥150 million and an apology. They also asked that measures be taken to prevent similar future incidents.

An Inageya official said, “We will respond after confirming the content of the notification.”

The man was rushed to a hospital on May 25, 2014, after his speech became garbled while at work. Though he returned to work on June 2, he fell sick again three days later and died on June 21, according to his family.

“We want our family to be the last one who suffers from karoshi,” his family said in a statement.

In another incident at Inageya, a separate male employee who had committed suicide was recognized by the Tokyo District Court in March 2011 as death by overwork due to long hours, according to his family.

In March, the government compiled a labor reform plan to limit monthly overtime to 100 hours during busy periods and average monthly overtime at 80 hours within a continuous period of two to six months.

But critics and people who have lost family members due to karoshi have said the plan is tepid at best.

Death by overwork is a topic of heated debate, making headlines in recent months — the most notable case being that of a 24-year-old female employee at the Dentsu ad agency whose suicide was recognized as karoshi.

The labor ministry is making arrangements to refer Dentsu and officials at the firm’s branch offices to prosecutors for allegedly making employees work illegally long hours, sources close to the matter said on Monday.

The alleged victim, Matsuri Takahashi, worked 105 hours of overtime per month — far in excess of the 70-hour limit set in a labor-management agreement — before she developed symptoms of depression, according to reports.

The ministry’s Tokyo Labor Bureau has already confronted Dentsu over its alleged violation of the Labor Standards Law in connection to the suicide of the female employee. It is now investigating whether other employees were made to work illegal amounts of overtime.

The ministry may be struggling to find evidence proving that senior officials of the nation’s biggest advertisement agency were aware of the alleged illegal conduct, the sources said, adding it is expected to decide whether to pursue the case by the end of the month at the earliest.

Officials at Dentsu branches in Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto are also suspected of violating the Labor Standards Law.