Japan is not an “at will” employment country.

Many of our members are not Japanese and work at small or very small companies. Working at small companies has many advantages: it’s often more human and you have a direct relationship with the boss. However, if there are problems, those good points often turn into bad ones, since you can be on the receiving end of arbitrary decisions that are difficult to remedy, especially if you do not know your rights. Let’s take an example of a common problem that we at Tozen have to deal with quite often: illegal dismissal.
One of our members was hired by a small English language school in Kamagaya in Chiba prefecture, Atlantic English (アトランティックイングリッシュ). As it is so often the case in the eikaiwa industry, he signed a one year contract. After just a month on the job and still in his trial period, he was told that he was let go. For many people who come from countries that have “at will” contracts, that is, where management can dismiss an employee just because they want to, this looks like something normal, and for such cases in “at will” countries, workers could do nothing. However, Japan is not an “at will” country, so any dismissal must have a valid reason and follow proper procedures. The two go hand in hand, and where proper procedures are not followed, it is often because the reasons of the dismissal are not really legal.

In the case of our member at Atlantic English, he was only told he was fired, without ever having received any form of reprimand, and certainly not a written warning. He was issued a letter of dismissal only after he requested one, and the reasons stated were just general reasons copied from the contract, not actual facts that supposedly lead to the dismissal. Even during a probation period, companies in Japan must have a valid reason for dismissing someone, and they cannot claim gross incompetence if they have never issued any warnings or offer any training. Basically, the only proper reasons for our member who worked at Atlantic English to have been dismissed that way would be if he had failed to show up for work for a lengthy period of time, or had committed a crime. Since this wasn’t the case, it was an illegal dismissal.

As a consequence, we have been demanding that the company honor the contract it signed and pay up the whole amount of the one year contract that both parties had signed. Work contracts are still contracts, so one can wonder if companies that do not honor their contract with their workers would do the same with their clients and suppliers. We are thus hoping that Atlantic English will honor their contract, and we are fighting for that.