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Ex-director sues Amnesty Japan for firing him over Japanese ability

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He was notified by Amnesty International Japan later in the same month that his contract had been terminated, with his working attitude cited among the reasons.

Many major NGO charities now serve the function of creating corporate partnerships and whitewashing corporate images. While doing little to challenge the structures that create the situations they are supposed to be fighting against.

14 ( +18 / -4 )

Amnesty International Japan said the board of directors acted appropriately at the time.

What an irony, a human rights organisation being sued for trampling on the rights of its worker.

Nobody in his right senses expects them to say otherwise but that doesn't mean they are saying the truth. I believe Sullivan over the organisation, it is not talked about but discrimination and bullying in Japanese companies is so widespread and the worst decision that one can make is to work for a typical J-company.

27 ( +31 / -4 )

I empathise with O' Sullivan, having been in his shoes.

This IS Japan, though, and if Amnesty is to be successful, it must weigh its financial constraints (no PA budget?) with the need for its chief to engage stakeholders as his Amnesty peers in other countries would.

A huge oversight by the selection panel more than anything else. Poor Taro.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

You must always assume that your Japanese is bad and that their English is really bad.

There is just no sensible way to work for a Japanese company if you have something gaijin in you. It is just not how Japan functions.

17 ( +23 / -6 )

Amnesty International, a nongovernmental organization focused on ending abuses of human

That's says all.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Most NGO’s or NPO’s , and all of them I know, are only and exclusively concerned with their own interests.

one of them in Japan stole my 2 dogs 4 y was as ago and gets protection from police and media. The management people enrich themselves but pretend to be volunteers.

Most of these organisations take advantage of the true goodwill of real volunteers and donors.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

Communication is a critical part of one's duties, enough so that it's not enough to only convey proper meaning but proper articulation especially at the director level. It's not what you say, but how you say it. So if you don't know the language, it's not possible to fulfill such duties.

-3 ( +8 / -11 )

When I first arrived in Japan, the Japanese company paid for me to go to University in the mornings (and I worked late in the evening) to study Japanese.

That was in the good old days.

Funny thing was, my tutor's could not understand how I wrote Kanji, but my conversational Japanese was basic. That's because I lived in Hong Kong as child.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

When a human rights group goes breaking bad.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

ok, so they hired the guy supposed knowing that his japanese ability was merely conversational. but shouldn't he have upped his game by learning japanese more? horrible HR decision, but also his own fault for thinking he could skate by forever.

-3 ( +8 / -11 )

Why did they hire him? Presumably he completed his six months probation. If they judged his Japanese to be sufficient at the end of the probation period, they should stick to it. Got nothing to do with his depression though. They can't be responsible for that.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

There is just no sensible way to work for a Japanese company if you have something gaijin in you. It is just not how Japan functions.

Spot on.

He was to be formally employed after completing a six-month probation, but during that period a requirement was added that reports and presentations were to be given in Japanese.

Bait and switch. A very Japanese way to get what they want.

12 ( +17 / -5 )

I don't think that his ability of the Japanese language was the real reason that they terminated his services.

I say that because I have always found that Japan is the only country in the world where the more fluent you are in their language, the less they like it.

12 ( +15 / -3 )

That's more to this story, look at the timeline: during the 6 month probation period, he claims he was asked to do stuff in Japanese, and he becomes depressed and stops going to work (within the 6 month probation period!). And he sues. Company claims working attitude and terminates his contract, which is probably the best thing to do: the probation period clearly showed that they don't fit. At the end, a very poor HR hiring decision. So now he wants to be reinstated at the company where he got depressed within 6 months, and continue doing presentations and reports in Japanese? Or they have to hire one more person to do all the translations for him? Something is lost in translation.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

True indeed, this stinks. I'm not sure he's being completely straight

8 ( +10 / -2 )

the probation period clearly showed that they don't fit. 

After the organization changed the job requirements during the probationary period.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

"If they judged his Japanese to be sufficient at the end of the probation period, they should stick to it. "

Employers have a right to extend your probationary period if you don't cut the mustard..

They do not necessarily have to keep you, just because of the expiration of the required probation period.

That is UK Empl Law, but I do not think Japan will be much different.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Tell me again how many billions of dollars are spent on English education in Japan. I think it’s around $3.5-4 billion every year.

The fact he does not know kanji is irrelevant. Around 40% of Japanese don’t know kanji either. That’s why they have hiragana and katakana.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

After the organization changed the job requirements during the probationary period.

As is their right. The probationary period is also an opportunity for the employer to test the feasibility of the new role they've created, not just the prospective employee. They might find the job description is inadequate, or that it should be split into two separate roles, or combined with another. The probationary period exists to protect the employer from all foreseeable risks of hiring.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

He was hired by AI and the recruiter fully knowing that he possessed only conversational Japanese and couldn't read or write. He then completed his 6 month probation. During that time, AI changed the skill requirement. He should've never been hired in the first place then. As for hiring control, it's stated that it was included in his contract yet AI's constitution & bylaws stated the contrary. AI flip-flopped on several issues and their board of directors were erratic and displayed terrible management. I don't think he should be rehired but AI should be made to pay for their dumb mistakes.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Bait and switch. A very Japanese way to get what they want

Yeah this happens A LOT here

If it happens just say no and insist on what you agreed to

0 ( +2 / -2 )

He should look on the bright side - at least he's not in a detention cell on trumped-up charges.

I wish him the best of luck!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Tell me again how many billions of dollars are spent on English education in Japan. I think it’s around $3.5-4 billion every year. 

The fact he does not know kanji is irrelevant. Around 40% of Japanese don’t know kanji either. That’s why they have hiragana and katakana.

Possibly the most misinformed thing I've read on JT. And that's saying something.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

ok, so they hired the guy supposed knowing that his japanese ability was merely conversational. but shouldn't he have upped his game by learning japanese more? horrible HR decision, but also his own fault for thinking he could skate by forever.

If he was in his 20s yeah, but the guy is 62 years old. Its not reasonable to expect someone that age to go from basic skills to being able to give presentations on complex topics and learning how to read and write a language with such a complex written form. This should have been obvious to Amnesty from the start.

I mean, I’m 44 and my Japanese game is about as upped as it is going to get, despite it still sucking. At 62....give me a break.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

As is their right. The probationary period is also an opportunity for the employer to test the feasibility of the new role they've created, not just the prospective employee. They might find the job description is inadequate, or that it should be split into two separate roles, or combined with another. The probationary period exists to protect the employer from all foreseeable risks of hiring.

While I'm sure a lot of employers like to look at it that way, that is completely unacceptable and not an unfettered right they have.

Once they hire someone they fall under duties both under the terms of their contract and under the Labor Standards Act and other labor legislation. They can't just fire him based on a new condition that wasn't part of their initial contract (rules of employment are considered contractual terms) and which it is impossible for him to comply with (and was known to be impossible at the time he was hired).

If employers had that right, employees would have zero protection from arbitrary dismissal.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Just speek english, or mandarin. Japanese is used on a few islands, sorry but nowhere near an international language.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

So he goes to work for a Japanese firm in Japan and expects everyone to speak English to him or hire a translator, interpreter, script writer etc just for him?

Letting him go was the correct decision

0 ( +6 / -6 )

I worked for major Japanese corporations like (Among top 3 bank ) and vouch for the pressure put on foreigners - even with business level of Japanese - is crushing. This inspite recruiting foreigner for his various ability and not only for Japanese language skills .

I contrast this with global non-Japanese firms which focus on the professional/technical skills and not just language skill. Anyway this is what i call Island mentality.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Greenlibran, Amnesty International is a global non-Japanese organization, which has a branch in Japan. Probably most of the staff is Japanese, but it is the same at all the other global companies

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@rainyday

they fall under duties both under the terms of their contract and under the Labor Standards Act and other labor legislation

If employers had that right, employees would have zero protection from arbitrary dismissal.

Yes, but labour laws in Japan do recognise the validity of temporary probationary periods. Temporary is the key word. The rationale behind limiting the employee's rights during this period is to avoid the costly drawn-out litigation we see in the article. Most unsuccessful employment relationships break down in the first few weeks and months and its better for everyone to just cut their losses and move on with their lives.

They can't just fire him based on a new condition that wasn't part of their initial contract

Yes, strictly speaking you're correct. You can't impose a new employment contract on someone, but you can decide that the role you created is no longer commercially viable and will be abolished (ie. the position of monolingual executive director). If there are no other suitable jobs at the company, what is a redundant employee still on their probationary period entitled to other than the minimum notice period and their final paycheck? Surely not a 5 million yen payout and a permanent position in the same role?

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Ms. Shoji knew from the start that he can't read and write as the case with 60% ~ 70% of foreigners living in Japan, so why did she help him at the start??

Was this a personal matter, a love revenge?? Perhaps.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The guy is an idiot.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

After the organization changed the job requirements during the probationary period.

Japan, one of the few countries, can be so proud of being so hypocritical!

It seems like more and more of these international embarrassments are occurring or at least reaching the light of day.

With the lockdown going on, it makes it a little easier to shine a spotlight on domestic affairs.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"After the organization changed the job requirements during the probationary period.

Japan, one of the few countries, can be so proud of being so hypocritical!"

Really?!

During a probationary period, you are not an employee. You are a job applicant.

There is nothing stopping an Employer from updating requirements to your tasks/expected capabilities.

After Employment, you still can be dismissed /made redundant.

Poor job performance is a ground (fair reason) for dismissal.

Provided all fair dismissal steps are followed that is the end for the prospective applicant.

I know as I get paid a lot of money in dealing with such similar cases.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@Peeping Tom

Really?!

During a probationary period, you are not an employee. You are a job applicant.

There is nothing stopping an Employer from updating requirements to your tasks/expected capabilities.

After Employment, you still can be dismissed /made redundant.

Poor job performance is a ground (fair reason) for dismissal.

Provided all fair dismissal steps are followed that is the end for the prospective applicant.

I know as I get paid a lot of money in dealing with such similar cases.

If learned something from the previous US president, it was people who are always trying to tell others that they are somebody usually are not.

I suggest you learn about Japanese laws before applying British laws.

From the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare:

Probationary Period

> Many Japanese companies adopt a “probationary period” system, whereby a period of time (typically three months) after a new school graduate, etc., is hired and has joined the company is set forth for the company to decide whether or not to fully employ the worker based on an evaluation of the worker’s personality and ability during this period.

> Of course, in Japan’s “long-term employment system”, in which new school graduates and others are periodically hired then trained and employed for the long term, as stated in (2) above, hiring of new school graduates and others is undertaken through a careful process of selection, so that aptitude assessment during the probationary period tends to be a formality, and full employment is rarely refused.

> In case law, employment contracts accompanied by a probationary period are deemed to take effect upon conclusion of the contract, with the reservation of termination rights, whereby the employment may be terminated simply for the reason that the worker was deemed to lack aptitude during the probationary period. Moreover, this reservation of termination rights is construed as being established with the gist of reserving the final decision based on subsequent investigation and observation, and as such, is deemed to be a reasonable condition of employment. Dismissal that is based on such reserved termination rights is acknowledged to have a broader range of freedom than normal dismissal. However, considering that during the probationary period the worker gives up opportunities for employment in other companies, and in light of the gist and purpose of reserving termination rights, the exercise of reserved termination rights is only permitted when there are objectively reasonable grounds and it can be endorsed as socially acceptable.

> It is deemed acceptable to exercise reserved termination rights if, as a result of investigation after the decision to hire, or the working performance during the probationary period, etc., facts come to be known that could not have been known (or could not be expected to have been known) at the outset, and if, on the basis of such facts, it is deemed objectively appropriate to judge, in light of the gist and purpose of reserving termination rights, that it would not be appropriate to continue to employ the individual in the company.

The last paragraph is the interesting part. Amnesty International Japan knew his Japanese ability before hiring him. The directors changed the terms of employment during the probationary beyond his abilities and used those new terms as the basis for terminating his employment.

He was to be formally employed after completing a six-month probation, but during that period a requirement was added that reports and presentations were to be given in Japanese.

While emails between O'Sullivan and the board of directors were initially translated by Shoji, he was later forced to communicate in Japanese by himself.

O'Sullivan's employment contract also stated that his position had wide-ranging authority, which included hiring staff. But as articles of incorporation, written in Japanese, state that the board of directors possessed authority over personnel management, Shoji stopped a new hire that O'Sullivan attempted to make.

Bullying?! If it is not hypocritical, it sure looks shady!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Silvafan

"... facts come to be known that could not have been known (or could not be expected to have been known) at the outset.."

The last paragraph is the interesting part. Amnesty International Japan knew his Japanese ability before hiring him.

But one could just as easily interpret that in a way favourable to Amnesty International. Perhaps they knew at the outset that he couldn't read or write in Japanese, but they didn't know or expect just how debilitating this would be to the satisfactory performance of the role. He was, after all, the first (and presumably last) non-Japanese executive director they had ever hired. Neither party knew what they were jumping into, which is why they agreed a probationary period.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@M3M3M3

But one could just as easily interpret that in a way favourable to Amnesty International. Perhaps they knew at the outset that he couldn't read or write in Japanese, but they didn't know or expect just how debilitating this would be to the satisfactory performance of the role. He was, after all, the first (and presumably last) non-Japanese executive director they had ever hired. Neither party knew what they were jumping into, which is why they agreed a probationary period.

I considered that, but the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare also supplied "Relevant Judicial Precedent " after the explanation.

Case#1

1) The probationary employee withheld facts about themself that was later discovered during the period. That was grounds for not offering full-time employment.

Case#2

2) The second probationary employee caused an accident that could have been potentially fatal. During the probationary period, the employee did not improve their performance despite their employers claim of providing ample support and guidance to improve with a clearly explained path to full-time employment.

The following is also stated to avoid disputes during the probationary period:

To prevent disputes from occurring To prevent disputes concerning the probationary period (except new school graduates, etc.), companies engaged in external labor market type personnel and labor management could include the following content in their labor contracts or rules of employment, for example, and carry out such measures in accordance with these, when appropriately paid employees are hired for immediate deployment in managerial or highly specialized positions, provided this does not compromise the professional interests of workers.

> * Rules of employment must be consistent with labor contracts.

1) The probationary period should not be too long (for example, about three months, extendable to six months with the worker’s consent).

> 2) The duties undertaken by the worker, the expected performance and other details should be stated in as much detail as possible.

> 3) It should be made clear that, during or after completion of the probationary period, the worker’s performance will be judged and dismissal could result.

> 4) The worker’s performance should be evaluated regularly during the probationary period and the worker should be informed of the result, and if there is any problem with the performance, it should be pointed out to the worker.

> 5) If a worker is to be dismissed, notice should be given, and a fixed allowance should be paid in consideration of the length of employment and other circumstances.

Unless there are important details that we do not know, it does seem like these two cases support Amnesty Internationals Japan's case.

https://www.mhlw.go.jp/file/06-Seisakujouhou-11200000-Roudoukijunkyoku/0000066935.pdf

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Unless there are important details that we do not know, it does not seem that these two cases support Amnesty Internationals Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"suggest you learn about Japanese laws before applying British laws."

I did indicate that my reasoning was under UK law (which I studied and practice, therefore I am).

As far as your innuendo, I am not the American President.

Also, there is explicitly a mention of the fact that I didn't think Japanese law (which I do not know) would be that different from British (which I know more than many).   They appear to differ more than I expected.

However,

" facts come to be known that could not have been known (or could not be expected to have been known) at the outset"

What if the Employee led/have hidden information during the probationary period and those facts came to light post-employment?

Care to explain this bit?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@Silvafan

I considered that, but the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare also supplied "Relevant Judicial Precedent " after the explanation.

In my view Case #2 could apply to our situation assuming his Japanese reading skills didn't improve and Amnesty was ready to provide additional support. There is almost certainly more to the story than we are being told. But I'm not sure the most common precedents are much help here. Lack of language ability is not a common problem arising in most Japanese labour disputes. It's a unique issue.

Looking at this more broadly, I'm curious to know why you (and others below) are so eager to see a world where someone like this cannot be easily dismissed. How do you benefit as a foreigner if Japanese labour laws during the probationary period are as strict and inflexible as you seem to want? Do you not see the danger in this?

Do you want a Japan where employers are open to trying out foreign employees even if their language skills don't seem 100%, because if things don't go as smoothly as expected during the probationary period they can easily part ways? Or do you want a Japan where employers are terrified to hire any foreigners because they can't be gotten rid of even if their lack of language ability turns out to be a disaster? Do you want every company to start demanding that every foreigner provide a certified copy of their JLPT N1 test results and a hand written essay to prove their Japanese abillity before they'll even grant an interview? The outcome of this case could determine which path we go down.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

This will be a very interesting case to follow, hopefully it will be solved out in the open instead of some secret deal.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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