The world of work has experienced changes since Coronavirus spread globally and lockdown orders were enacted. Remote work becomes primary and employers must follow emergency measures from the governments. Even after the state of emergency has been lifted, many employees are unable to return to work normally like before the pandemic hit. That being said, there is a need to live in the “new normal” with Covid-19 which includes a new relationship between work and employees, including new measurements to workplace hygiene, body temperature check before entering office building, new lunch setting, and more. One of the most fundamental of these new measurements in the “new normal”, nonetheless, is to fulfil the obligation to protect employees from getting infected with Covid-19 through work.
The Japan Business Federation (known as Keidanren) issued the Guidelines for Preventing the Spread of Novel Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) in Offices and in Manufacturing Workplaces. The Guidelines encourage employers to consider varied forms of work programs to reduce the frequency of commutes and relieve congestion on public transport. These would include remote work, staggered start and finish times, rotation work, flexible working hour system, and four-day workweeks.
The Guidelines also encourage employers to take other various measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to protect the lives and health of employees. To comply with employers’ obligation to keep their employees safe and healthy, employers should carefully study the Guidelines and the other guidelines issued by each industry group.
Junya Kubota at EY review cited that remote working is viewed as one of the ways to reduce infection risks by reducing commutes to the offices. Basically, there are no regulations specifically applying to employees working remotely. They are subject to the same set of rules as those who are working at the office (such as the Labor Standards Act, Minimum Wage Act, and Industrial Safety and Health Act). The government has also issued the guidelines concerning telework in February 2018, which are useful for employers to understand the checkpoints. One of the major points would be how the employer ascertains working hours of each employee.
It should be noted that dismissal (unilateral termination of employment by employer) for redundancy is difficult in Japan. A dismissal is void if it does not have objectively reasonable grounds and it is not considered to be appropriate in general societal terms. In a case of dismissal for redundancy, a so-called “four-factor test” is used to determine if it is valid or not. The four factors are as follows:
While it is important to understand workplace requirements in the “new normal” era, some experts believed that minimal compliance could result in losing talented staff. Thus, employers who are still unable to be in compliance with the new working norm should go forward with telework options as flexible work settings would attract talented staff more than ever. Last note is that enterprises should use the government’s subsidies wisely.