At least 30 Dentsu workers underreported overtime by over 100 hours: sources

Kyodo, Bloomberg

At least 30 employees at Dentsu Inc. have reported their monthly overtime work as being more than 100 hours less than they actually worked, a sign that the practice was widespread at the Japanese advertising giant, sources said Monday.

The findings follow revelations that a 24-year-old employee committed suicide due to overwork late last year. Labor authorities suspect the company may have been systematically showing employees’ overtime work as shorter than the actual figures, the sources said.

The family of the employee, Matsuri Takahashi, claims she worked 105 overtime hours a month, exceeding the limit of 70 hours set in a labor-management agreement, before developing symptoms of depression.

Although records at the company show her working hours were within the limit, the family said she had been instructed by the company to report shorter hours so the extra hours would not go over the limit on record.

Dentsu Inc. offices were raided Monday by labor ministry officials looking for evidence that the advertising firm’s employees exceeded legal limits on overtime hours.

Officials from local labor bureaus searched the company’s headquarters in central Tokyo and its branches in Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya.

Dentsu said it would fully cooperate with the investigations.

According to Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting Monday that the government would thoroughly check the situation at Dentsu, including its subcontractors.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga highlighted the Dentsu case in a regular briefing with reporters Monday, saying the advertising agency will be dealt with appropriately and that the government is working on labor law reforms to prevent deaths from overwork.

While authorities had already conducted on-site inspections of the firm last month — nearly 10 months after the suicide on Christmas Day, 2015, of 24-year-old employee Matsuri Takahashi — Monday’s raid was part of a more rigorous probe that Labor ministry sources said could lead to a criminal case against Dentsu.

Under Japan’s criminal procedure law, labor standards inspectors have powers similar to police officers and can investigate, make arrests and refer suspects to prosecutors.

Authorities have vowed to tackle the problem, which some believe is systemic, by checking work records for cases of illegal overtime.

“This is not just about a suicide involving a young employee,” a labor ministry official said. “We want to thoroughly probe company-wide labor management practices.”

Takahashi’s family claims she worked 105 overtime hours a month — far exceeding the 70-hour limit set in a labor-management agreement — before developing depression.

The young woman was a member of a section at the firm in charge of online advertising. Her workload grew sharply in October 2015 after she completed her probationary period. That month, her work time skyrocketed to some 105 hours a month in overtime, compared with 40 hours while on probation, her family said.

In one instance, her timecard records show a stretch of more than two straight days of work.

On Oct. 25, a Sunday, she began work at 7:27 p.m. and continued for the next 53 hours until 12:42 a.m. on Oct. 28, recording just 20 minutes’ break time, according to the lawyer representing her family.

Company records, however, tell a different story, purporting to show that Takahashi worked only 69.9 overtime hours — just below the 70-hour limit — in October.

Takahashi left a number of comments on social media hinting at her harsh work conditions, including a tweet stating: “Again, I have to go to work on Saturday and Sunday. I seriously want to die.”

She committed suicide on Dec. 25 by jumping from a corporate dormitory.

In September, a labor standards office recognized her suicide as work-related, finding that it had been prompted by extensive hours at the office.

The labor authorities suspect other Dentsu employees have similarly worked hours beyond the agreed limit despite orders in 2014 and 2015 for the company to improve its working conditions.

Takahashi’s suicide was not the first case of karoshi, or death from overwork, at the firm. It recalls a similar tragedy at Dentsu in 1991, when a 24-year-old employee took his own life, with his suicide also recognized as having resulted from overwork.

In a legal battle between the company and the man’s parents, the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the advertising firm was liable for his death.

Dentsu currently bans employees from staying in the office from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in principle. It has also reduced the maximum monthly limit of overtime hours by five in a bid to curb overwork.

The company is known for following a set of 10 principles created in 1951, including one roughly translated as, “Never give up on your task. Do not let go even if you get killed.”

The principles had been used in training new recruits, and management-level officials are still heavily influenced by them, Dentsu sources said.