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Affirmative action for female workers in Japan? Developments in gender aspects of workplace laws

NO&T Japan Legal Update

Eriko Ogata
Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu
Journal /
NO&T Japan Legal Update No.5 (May, 2016)
Practice Areas
*Please note that this newsletter is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. In addition, it is based on information as of its date of publication and does not reflect information after such date. In particular, please also note that preliminary reports in this newsletter may differ from current interpretations and practice depending on the nature of the report.

I. Introduction
Whilst successive Japanese governments have endeavored to increase female participation in the workforce, these efforts have noticeably doubled under the Abe administration. The number of female employees who continue to work after having children has been gradually increasing following the coming into force in 1985 of the Act on Securing of Equal Opportunity and Treatment between Men and Women in Employment (Act No. 113 of 1972) (the ‘Equal Opportunity Employment Act’) and in 1992 of the Act on Childcare Leave (Act No. 76 of 1991, currently the ‘Act on Childcare and Caregiver Leave’) (the ‘Childcare Leave Act’). Nonetheless, the number of women holding managerial positions in Japan is still lower than in many comparable countries. According to a 2014 government survey, only 11.3% of managerial posts are held by women.

To address this situation, on April 1, 2016, the Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace came into force. Under the Act, an employer with more than 300 employees must create an action plan for increasing the number of female staff and their participation in business activities. This requires an employer to set specific numerical targets based upon an analysis of the ratio of newly hired female employees compared to males, the gender gap in relation to period of employment, the ratio of female managers to males and other relevant factors. This Act is considered a progressive step toward fulfilling the government’s policy of increasing female labor market participation.

Given this increased focus recently, how to treat employees who are raising children has become a key management issue in Japan. Below is a brief overview of the maternity and childcare leave regimes in Japan and a recent Supreme Court judgment concerning these issues.

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