City hall worker denies man’s physical handicap was part of her motivation.

One unique aspect of Japanese work culture is the lack of cubicles or private offices. Instead, coworkers sit side by side at long tables, like the one shown above.

It’s believed that this more open layout helps foster communication, empathy, and teamwork. However, when a man in Kagoshima Prefecture, on Japan’s southwest island of Kyushu, showed up for work he discovered that the coworker who sits next to him had decided to do some remodeling by putting up a barrier between his desk and hers.

That morning, the 50-something man’s female employee and table neighbor, who is in her 20s, had arrived at the office before him and set up a partition made of black cardboard between their sections of the table. The barrier was about 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) tall and 50 centimeters long, large enough so that the two of them couldn’t see each other if seated.

That probably would have made for an awkward shift, but instead of clocking in the man, feeling bullied, went home. The incident occurred on October 16 and the man hasn’t been back to work since. He’s since been diagnosed with adjustment disorder and is currently on sick leave.

The woman kept the partition up for the first few days even after the man stopped coming to work, but has since taken it down. However, she is now being disciplined for her actions, which the city hall administration has deemed “inappropriate.” When asked why she put up the partition, the woman said “Working with him has been a recurring source of stress. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I put up the barrier without being really conscious of doing so.”

Adding another complication to the situation is the fact that the man, who transferred into the division in April of 2019, is physically handicapped, though the woman denies that that was a factor in her putting up the barrier.

There has been no indication that either of the two coworkers was the other’s superior in the office hierarchy, and so the situation is unlikely to be handled as a case of outright power harassment. However, the city hall is saying that if and when the man is ready to return to work, they are considering reassigning one or both of them to another department so that they’ll no longer have to work in such close proximity.

Sources: Yomiuri Shimbun via Itai News, Minami Nihon Shimbun
Top image: Pakutaso
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