Sounds like a sick joke, but really just sick.

Power harassment, the act of a person in authority at a workplace bullying those in lower positions, is an ongoing problem in Japanese society. In response the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has set up countermeasures and public awareness campaign, but sadly they haven’t proven effective enough at eliminating this social problem.

In fact, the problem of power harassment is so prolific it appears to have even infiltrated the ministry itself. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was one of the ministry’s very own appointed “power harassment counselors” who was guilty of driving his subordinates to the point of affecting his mental health.

The problems for the victim began in April of 2017, when he was transferred to a department in the ministry responsible for policy development and evaluation. There he was placed in the guidance of a manager who also served as a power harassment counselor for that department and was tasked with preventing power harassment within the ministry.

And yet bizarrely, soon after joining the department the victim’s boss began to make strange, violent comments such as “Can I break you?” and “If I say ‘die,’ will you die?” The victim was also verbally abused in front of co-workers, shunned, and given overtime upwards of 130 hours per month.

He filed complaints with outside departments but his situation didn’t change, and by December of 2018 he had to take a leave of absence. From there he was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder, and he ultimately quit in March of 2020.

He also filed a public workplace injury claim and compiled roughly 300-pages of corroborating evidence. The response from the ministry was mixed, however. On 2 March, the victim was notified that his claim was recognized, but that he would receive no compensation for it. On top of that, he was asked to pay back some of the medical benefits he received while on leave.

Explaining the case to Mainichi Shimbun, the victim broke down in tears and said, “I don’t think this is a ministry that protects the rights of workers.”

Readers of the news would have laughed at the sheer irony of power harassment by the power harassment counselor, had it not been such a tragic story.

“What is going on…”
“It’s not funny and yet it seems like a joke.”
“I worry about the system that lets someone like that be in such a position, but it keeps happening in the private sector too.”
“I wonder if the boss got interested in power harassment after learning more about it through training.”
“The only joke here is the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.”
“We are living in a poorly written manga.”
“How does this even happen?”

In the wake of the incident, the boss is reportedly to be disciplined, but little else is known about the matter because the ministry would “not comment on individual cases.”

Everything that happened could be seen as a dire glass-half-empty situation. Either the ministry’s own power harassment awareness was far to weak to even identify it in such a crucial position, or power harassment is such a prolific problem that it’s impossible for anyone to be completely protected against it.

Either way, it’s clearly a problem that has gotten way out of control.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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