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Dentsu may face prosecution for overwork suicide

Kyodo

The labor ministry referred advertising agency Dentsu Inc. and three officials from its offices in Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto to prosecutors on Tuesday on suspicion of violating the Labor Standards Law by making employees work overtime beyond legal limits.

The move came after a 24-year-old employee of the company, Matsuri Takahashi, committed suicide due to overwork in December 2015. The ministry forwarded documents about Dentsu and Takahashi’s manager to prosecutors in December last year on the suspicion that she was forced to underreport her working hours.

After reviewing the documents, local prosecutors will transfer the cases to the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office to decide whether criminal charges will be brought.

A high-profile criminal case is likely to pique public interest given the involvement of Dentsu, the nation’s top advertising agency.

The ministry has been investigating whether other employees at Dentsu’s headquarters were made to work overtime in excess of legal limits, but eventually ceased inquiries after making little progress. The lack of evidence suggests that senior officials were aware of alleged illegal conduct.

After Takahashi’s death, her 54-year-old mother Yukimi Takahashi filed a request with Tokyo’s labor standards inspection office that her daughter’s suicide be recognized as a work-related death.

In September last year, the office recognized Takahashi’s suicide as a case of karoshi (death from overwork) after finding that she had worked 105 hours per month in overtime — far higher than the 70-hour cap set in a labor-management agreement. The company accepted that overwork played a role in the onset of Takahashi’s depression, an acknowledgement which led to a paid settlement and prompted then-President Tadashi Ishii to resign to take responsibility for the scandal.

In October, the labor ministry conducted an on-site inspection at Dentsu’s head office in Tokyo and raided the branch offices in Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto the following month on suspicion of Labor Standards Law violations.

The ministry questioned Dentsu President Toshihiro Yamamoto on a voluntary basis on Thursday over the allegations.