The world’s largest advertising agency, Dentsu Inc., has been ruled negligent in failing to prevent the suicide in 1991 of an employee who had worked excessive hours, despite seeing signs he needed rest, the Tokyo High Court said Sept. 26 in upholding a lower court ruling.

The high court, however, also ruled that the parents of Ichiro Oshima bore some responsibility for his lifestyle, and slashed the 120 million yen award given to them by the Tokyo District Court in March 1996 to 89 million yen. Oshima had some means to govern how long he worked, and his parents, with whom he was living, did not try to correct the situation, the court said.

In the ruling, presiding Judge Yasuyuki Suzuki said the overtime was beyond the social limits of acceptability. There was a cause and effect relationship between the overtime and the employee’s depression and subsequent suicide, he said.

Dentsu appealed the district court ruling, claiming that the hours submitted by Oshima indicate he only worked two to three overtime hours each day. Dentsu claimed that some of the things done by late-working employees cannot be called work and that his suicide was caused by his family environment.

Oshima Dentsu in April 1990 and worked past 2 a.m. about four times a month in 1990. His overtime episodes grew to five to 10 times a month in 1991, eventually becoming twice every five days by August. Most of the overtime shifts went on until after 6 a.m.

When Oshima went back home after these shifts, he basically only changed clothes and returned to work. Around July 1991, he started telling his boss, “I wake up after only two hours of sleep,” and, “I cannot function any more as a human being.”

Dentsu said it will study the high court ruling.

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