On 15 June 2006, amendments to the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and other relevant pieces of legislation were adopted by the plenary session of the House of Representatives and became laws.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Law, the full title of which is the Law on Securing Equal Opportunity and Treatment between Men and Women in Employment, was enacted in 1985 when Japan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, in the form of amendments to the Working Women Welfare Law, with a view to harmonizing national legislation with the Convention. With the purpose of securing equal opportunity and treatment of women in employment, the Law requires employers to ensure equal treatment between men and women in recruitment, hiring, assignment and promotion and prohibits discriminatory treatment in training, fringe benefits, the mandatory retirement age, retirement and dismissal. Equal treatment in recruitment and hiring, which was no more than an obligation to make efforts in good faith, has also been prohibited after the 1997 amendments. Employers in breach of the provisions are subject to administrative guidance and, when they do not comply with it, to a public announcement to that effect. The 1997 amendments also introduced new provisions concerning employers' obligation to devote due care to prevent sexual harassment as well as positive action for the promotion of equal opportunity between men and women.
The new amendments changed the scope of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law from discrimination on the basis of being women to gender-based discrimination, thus prohibiting discrimination against men as well. In addition, the areas where discriminatory treatment is prohibited are now provided in more detail, including assignment of tasks, provision of powers, kinds of occupation, change of employment status and renewal of labour contracts.
Furthermore, the concept of indirect discrimination was introduced as a form of prohibited discriminatory measures. Indirect discrimination means that, if any measures bring about discriminatory consequences for either men or women, they will be regarded as discrimination, even if they do not constitute explicit distinction between men and women and other forms of direct discrimination. Such measures are permitted only when there are reasonable grounds, such as that they are necessary for the performance of specific tasks. It has been pointed out that the two-track employment management system, which began to be introduced widely when the original Equal Employment Opportunity Law was enforced, amounts to this form of discrimination, because workers are virtually segregated by gender in different career courses under the system. In view of this and other situations, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended awareness-raising about indirect discrimination and other measures when it considered Japan's periodic report.[PDF 147KB]
When the Labour Policy Council of the Ministry of Labour had considered about the introduction of the concept of indirect discrimination, however, employers had expressed strong opposition, stating that the concept is not well recognized yet. Consequently, prohibition of indirect discrimination in general has not been provided for in the amended Law. Instead, the following three forms of indirect discrimination are to be prohibited in statutory orders: (a) providing for weight and height requirements in recruitment and hiring; (b) requiring applicants for managerial positions to accept transfer to any places in the country; and (c) requiring candidates for promotion to have experienced transfer to other places.
Other new provisions include prohibition of dismissal and other unfavourable treatment of female workers on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and maternity leave. Dismissal of women is to be invalid as a rule if they are pregnant or if one year has not passed after childbirth. Also, sexual harassment against men is now in the scope of the Law; employers are now required not only to devote due care to its prevention but also to make specific arrangements for dealing with complaints, including through setting up focal points.
· Concluding Comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Japan [PDF 147KB]
· The Equal Employment Opportunity Law (amended in 1997)