The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is planning to tighten and enforce the country’s guidelines for harassment in the workplace, the ministry announced in early November.

Revising the Equal Employment Opportunity Law this year and enforcing the changes from July 2014 will be welcome news to the many employees who suffer from workplace harassment and discrimination.

The proposed improvements to current guidelines will help to establish better relations within workplaces. The new guidelines include a reconsideration of harassment between members of the same gender. A female supervisor talking to a female subordinate will no longer be able to make comments such as, “Why aren’t you married yet?” or “When are you going to have children?” Under the new guidelines, such comments will be considered harassment.

Overregulating speech, of course, is not conducive to improving the atmosphere in workplaces or relations between employees. However, using one’s authority and position to comment on the private lives of employees should not be condoned. Because such comments create unnecessary tension and suggest that decisions about promotion or duties will be based on the private lives of employees, they need to be stopped.

The new guidelines also regulate comments that men and women should act differently. Making comments to men such as “That is unmanly” or “You should act like a man” would be prohibited. Prohibiting such gender-biased comments is important if men and women are ever going to be considered equal in the workplace. Making comments that pointlessly prescribe behavior or attitudes differently between men and women constitutes another form of gender discrimination in the workplace.

Most importantly the ministry plans to make regulations about promotion much stricter. Companies will be prohibited, for example, from refusing to promote an employee to management because the worker declined to be transferred to another part of the country because of their marriage or family situation. In the past, when employees tried to discuss such transfers, it was often used as a pretext for not promoting them. Women’s potentially taking maternity leave has similarly been used to unfairly evaluate female employees and deny promotion.

Clarifying regulations and increasing enforcement will help reduce harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Current workers are becoming increasingly assertive about fair treatment and have been consulting the ministry in greater numbers. Workers have the right to be treated fairly at work, both in word and action, and have begun to push for greater equality and better treatment. Improving workplace conditions by removing verbal harassment and unfair promotion practices is essential for improving Japan’s economy and the quality of life for all employees.

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