Businesses will be obliged starting next month to offer their employees an annual test to check their mental stress level amid an increase in workers suffering mental disorders.

Under a revision last year of the Industrial Health and Safety Law, the test, which takes the form of a questionnaire, will target more than 20 million employees at around 16,000 businesses nationwide, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The purpose of the testing is to let workers know their own stress level and keep depression at bay rather than ferreting out people with mental disorders, said psychiatrist Takashi Amagasa.

He said mental health conditions in the workplace are deteriorating, making it important that workers take the test.

Employees, who won't be required to take the test, will be informed of the results directly from the doctors or nurses involved in the assessment.

Those judged as being under heavy stress can see a doctor if they wish, while their employer, based on the doctor's advice, will have to lessen the employee's burden through such measures as cutting work hours and improving the workplace.

The law will prohibit companies from punishing employees for not taking the test or refusing to see a doctor, or firing or unreasonably transferring employees due to results of their interviews with the doctor.

Doctors and nurses will be prohibited from telling employers the test result without the respondent's consent. They and workers in charge of the testing can face punishment for confidentiality violations.