• Kyodo

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Labor authorities conducted on-site inspections at Japan’s top advertising agency Dentsu Inc. 10 times during the past decade through December 2015 prior to the alleged overwork-related suicide of one of its young female employees, sources said Thursday.

During investigations into allegations such as illegally long working hours, the company received five warnings for excessive overtime hours, the sources said, hinting the firm could have dragged its feet in improving conditions for staff.

Dentsu has declined comment to Kyodo News about the matter.

The fresh revelation came a day after Dentsu President Tadashi Ishii announced he will quit his post in January following the suicide of 24-year-old employee Matsuri Takahashi on Christmas Day last year.

Also Wednesday, the labor ministry referred the company and one of its male executives to prosecutors on suspicion of forcing Takahashi and another employee to work and underreport illegally long hours.

The sources said local labor standards inspection offices carried out the on-site inspections from September 2005 to December 2015 at Dentsu’s Tokyo headquarters and its Kansai, Kyoto and Chubu branch offices in western and central Japan.

The bulk of inspections, which looked into cases of Dentsu employees’ karoshi — death from overwork — as well as work-induced psychological problems, were carried out after June 2014 and before Takahashi’s death.

Of the 10 inspections, five appeared to have resulted in the labor authorities warning Dentsu that the way employees are made to work is illegal and urging the firm to rectify the situation. But the remaining five inspections did not find any illegal practices.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Dentsu said it did take steps to improve the long work hours after being warned. According to Dentsu, it was able to cut the monthly average of overtime from 34.3 hours in 2013 to 28.9 hours in 2015.

However, the number of cases where workers stayed in the office more than an hour after supposedly declaring the end of working hours came to 5,626 on average in 2013 and to 8,222 in 2015, Dentsu said, suggesting employees may have underreported their work hours.

Takahashi, who joined the company in April 2015 and showed signs of depression prior to her death, was found to have worked overtime in excess of the maximum number of hours allowed under a labor-management agreement. She jumped to her death from the upper floor of a company dormitory on Dec. 25 last year, according to a lawyer for her family.

The Tokyo labor standards inspection office in September recognized Takahashi’s suicide as a case of karoshi, as her overtime hours had significantly increased from around 40 hours a month to over 100 hours before she began to suffer from depression.

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