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Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest advertising agency, plans to offer an out-of-court settlement to a deceased employee’s parents, who sued the firm claiming their son’s suicide was caused by overwork, according to lawyers for the parents.

Dentsu representatives and the parents of Ichiro Oshima, 24, who killed himself in 1991, negotiated a possible compromise following a Tokyo High Court’s recommendation in May to settle out of court, the lawyers said.

The Dentsu officials, who have rejected any liability for Oshima’s death, told the parents the firm plans to pay compensation based on a 1996 ruling by the Tokyo District Court that said the giant ad agency was completely at fault and ordered it to pay 120 million yen in damages.

The officials also expressed their willingness to offer an apology to Oshima’s family during negotiations Tuesday, but insisted that workers’ compensation money already paid to the parents should be deducted from the 120 million yen, the attorneys said.

The parents welcomed Dentsu’s offer to settle, and said they will study its details, the lawyers said.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled that Dentsu was completely responsible for the suicide and sent the case back to the high court to reconsider compensation for the parents.

The top court rejected a 1997 high court decision that reduced the compensation awarded to the parents from 120 million yen to about 89 million yen, saying Oshima and his parents were partly to blame.

The parents filed the lawsuit against Dentsu in 1993, demanding some 222 million yen in compensation. They claimed Oshima killed himself in August 1991 due to depression and exhaustion brought on by overwork.

Fight stress, firms told

A Labor Ministry panel wants companies to take better measures to ensure their employees’ mental health amid an increasing number of suicides apparently triggered by job-related stress.

The panel of mental health experts said in its report that senior company officials need to pay more attention to making sure their subordinates are not overworking themselves or are under an excessive burden.

It also called on companies to educate management-level people so they can identify employees with mental health problems at an early stage and give them proper advice.

Companies also need to provide knowhow on self-care to their employees so they can deal with mental problems by themselves, the panel said. Companies also need to have systems to offer counseling, it said.

The panel said that in carrying out any of its proposals, it is very important to protect privacy.

The ministry will draw up basic mental health guidelines for corporations in July based on the proposals by the panel, ministry officials said.

The panel has discussed how to deal with an increasing number of company employees suffering from mental illnesses since it was launched in May 1999.

A study found 31,755 people committed suicide in 1998, surpassing the 30,000 mark for the first time. The increase in suicides, apparently related to the economic slump, was most notable among men in their 40s to 60s.

A different survey by the ministry showed 63 percent of the respondents said they had deep anxieties or stress because of their jobs in 1997, up from 51 percent in 1982.

No other figures were provided.

Some companies have already started offering counseling services for employees, but many of the services do not function because employees avoid in-house counseling for fear they might not get promoted, ministry officials said.