National / Social Issues

Law revision aims to protect job hunters from sexual harassment

From June, companies required to provide counseling and general workplace harassment training

Kyodo

The threat of sexual harassment is an all-too-real concern for students seeking jobs, and it is sometimes their university alumni who use promises of patronage to abuse their position of trust.

University students looking to enter the workforce commonly contact alumni at their target companies to gain insight and advice on how to get a foothold, often meeting in person at bars, restaurants or other venues.

“A lot of people get married to coworkers at our company. If you don’t find a boyfriend at work, you will be left on the shelf,” was the inappropriate advice one 23-year-old Sophia University graduate was given after seeking guidance.

And that was just one instance.

She had a similarly uncomfortable experience at an informal meetup hosted by a prospective employer that previously gave her an internship.

She looks back at these situations with distress, describing the meetings as more ordeal than inspiration.

In informal conversations that coincided with entrance exams at major manufacturers and financial companies, she also found herself being asked wholly unnecessary questions about her relationship status, she recalled.

“I thought if I don’t answer their questions, it would hurt my evaluation and chances to enter the company. I was so desperate to get an offer,” she said, underscoring the sense of powerlessness.

Each time she responded flippantly, trying to play the game.

“It would be bad if I don’t get married early,” she would tell the interviewer in an attempt to steer the conversation elsewhere. Now she only recalls the unpleasantness of the situation.

Even her outfits were not off-limits, with questions thrown her way by both men and women. Some asked her why she was wearing trousers rather than a skirt to exams, she said.

When a revised law takes effect in June, companies will for the first time be required to adopt such steps as counseling and general workplace harassment training. They will also be required to investigate harassment complaints, take measures against offenders and consult local authorities about possible further action.

How the changes apply to job hunters, however, remains unclear, with only “similar steps” prescribed by law.

Of 110 major companies surveyed between January and February, 67.3 percent said they had already taken measures to protect student applicants, a Kyodo News survey found.

While 13.6 percent said they are planning to take protective steps, the same percentage said they had no plans to do so.

The main changes companies have adopted to counter harassment include requiring that one-on-one meetings be conducted at company facilities, and the obvious step of prohibiting consumption of alcohol during meetups. Some have made a rule requiring employees to only meet with prospective hires of the same sex.

Other efforts include distributing manuals detailing appropriate behavior for employees tasked with recruitment activities and conducting specific in-house training addressing the issue of harassment.

Voice Up Japan, an advocacy group that works to improve gender equality in the workplace, has received around 110 complaints from young people who experienced harassment when navigating the recruitment process.

In one case, a female student complained of her thigh being groped under the table by a representative of a company to which she was applying, the group said.

In another case, a female student who was drinking at a restaurant with an employee of a prospective employer was licked on the hand by the man when she returned from the toilet. The report said that others in attendance did nothing other than laugh after the incident.

Voice Up Japan said the issue also involves male students. One student said he was urged to enter a sexual relationship in exchange for a job offer.

“There is an atmosphere where laughing it off is considered the mature thing to do and there are a lot of cases in which people around the victims do not offer help,” said Chisato Yamashita, a member of Voice Up Japan who is a junior at International Christian University in Tokyo.

“(The companies) have to change their employees’ mindsets, fundamentally, and it is important to ensure more people can provide support,” she said.

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