Washington International Law Journal


In June 2006, Japan changed its approach to employment discrimination by amending the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (“EEOL”). The change was prompted by increased gender discrimination litigation, domestic economic pressures relating to the low birth rate, a stagnant economy and declining labor force, and criticism from the United Nations. The revised law attempts to address several of the shortcomings of the old law. First, Japan has made the law applicable to all workers rather than just to women workers. Second, the revisions expand the scope of the law by including a section on indirect discrimination. Third, the revisions provide greater protection for workers who take childcare and family leave by prohibiting employers from effectively denying employees’ rights to child care leave. While these revisions to the EEOL indicate a positive conceptual shift in employment discrimination law in Japan, they appear to fall short in three areas. First, the provisions on indirect discrimination are too narrowly drafted. Second, the childcare leave provisions fail to place an affirmative duty on employers to act. Third, the enforcement measures are still too weak. To correct these problems, a more general legal definition of indirect discrimination should be drafted, regulations should be issued to assist employers in providing more accommodating work environments for parents who exercise their right to child care leave, and the enforcement provisions of the law should be strengthened. This comment traces the development of the EEOL in Japan and highlights the issues that the old versions of the law did not address. It then discusses the specific changes in the 2006 revisions, their strengths and shortcomings, and recommends certain changes.

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