Scant legal justification for unpaid overtime

“I’ve been working in Japan for the past few years and lately, because of the slow pace of business, our company has let go of some of our staff. As a result, we have to split the workload of the recent layoffs. Our boss keeps telling us to punch in our timecards for regular hours and not to do any overtime, but I cannot do all of my work within a regular eight-hour day, and I find myself routinely doing overtime. I am not getting paid for any of my extra work, and I was wondering what sort of steps I could take to get compensation.”

From what you’ve told us it sounds like you may have a case against your employer. Forcing employees to work overtime without compensation is illegal and can carry serious penalties for your employer.

In principle, a work week is supposed to total 40 hours, divided into eight hours per day. Any work beyond this limit is only possible with prior agreement between the employer and employees, and is subject to overtime payment.

Certain contracts include a clause stating that the salary includes any possible overtime hours or a specified “overtime allowance.” While the former is illegal, the latter is not illegal per se. However, employees are entitled to claim any difference between the overtime allowance and what the overtime wage for the actual hours would have been using the premiums mentioned above. Essentially, with or without an “overtime allowance clause,” the employee is entitled to the same overtime wages.

If overtime work is done with the understanding of the employer but without an explicit request, the employee can still file a request for unpaid overtime wages.

When there is unpaid overtime, an employee can report it to the relevant labor standards bureau, which will [may] conduct an investigation and [may] either suggest or request payment if a violation is found.