Updated January 12, 2024
Getting Fired in Japan: Here's How to Prepare
What if you suddenly lose your job in Japan?
It’s a scenario no one wants to consider, but being prepared can transform a crisis into a manageable reality.
If a time comes when your contract gets terminated out of the blue, knowing your options can help reduce the stress and uncertainty of the situation.
So, let’s see what you can do to protect yourself from the worst outcomes of getting fired in Japan, what to do immediately after, and how to soften the blow by preparing for it.
Know The Difference: Are You Really Getting Fired?
When it comes to the termination of a job contract, it’s almost always a distasteful event, unless the employee is simply moving on to a new job.
So, oftentimes, feelings get involved, and the actual details of what happened and who said what become blurry.
When an employee notices signs that they may be fired, and eventually gets the suggestion to leave their job, many instantly take it as a dismissal, or that they are fired.
However, emphasis on the “suggestion”, here, as for this to be considered a true dismissal, it should come as a decision that leaves the employee without a choice.
So, if you think you’re being fired, focusing on the facts and written correspondence, if there are any, will tell you what’s legally going on and how you should proceed, which I’ll explain in a bit.
If you’re being proposed or suggested to leave, you have the right to deny the request and continue working. This is simply a way to make you quit without officially dismissing you, which covers the company’s bases but strips you away from some of your rights.
Therefore, if you plan on taking your case to court, it will be in your best interest not to submit a resignation notice, even if your employer asks you to. The court will decide whether you were dismissed or fired, and if the reasons were valid and legal.
So, Can You Get Fired in Japan?
Not all proposals regarding your leaving have to be taken as a definite decision, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t get fired in Japan.
In fact, a dismissal is very much in the realm of possibilities, considering the employer does so legally, abiding by the rules.
The general rule for dismissal is that the employer has the right to terminate the contract if there are unresolvable issues with the employee, or if the employee is acting in a way that’s clearly illegal or in breach of the contract.
That said, it should be noted that the rule regarding unresolvable issues is a card both the employer and the employee can use. As a general rule in labor law disputes, the burden of proof is on the employer when a dispute arises.
Due to this, unresolvable issues are generally less likely to be the reason for your dismissal, unless your employer really has proof that you’re in the wrong. These are generally hard to prove, and this is why employees are usually suggested to leave before getting fired in the first place.
Even if you’re in the wrong, however, there are still requirements your employer needs to meet to be able to terminate your contract rightfully and legally.
Grounds for Dismissal: The Rules and Regulations
As stated before, a dismissal isn’t valid unless done legally, and this means that first and foremost, there should be clear, reasonable grounds for a dismissal that are objective and verifiable.
The objectively reasonable grounds for your dismissal should also be included in the company’s work rules, which you agree to abide by when you sign the contract of employment. This is, of course, considering that the employee’s conduct isn’t outright illegal.
In addition to these, another common ground for a dismissal originates from case verdicts that became a precedent in Japan’s labor law, which is dismissal due to the downsizing of a business.
If a business is doing badly and downsizing as a result, employees can be let go under four conditions, which are proving that:
The dismissal was necessary and unpreventable
The company took all preventative measures to avoid letting people go
The choice of who to dismiss was fair
The dismissal decision was made after consulting with labor unions
If the employer decides to terminate the contract under one of the rightful conditions above, they still have to do so by giving the employee a 30-day notice. Alternatively, the company can also choose to pay the 30 days’ equivalent as a notice allowance to sever ties with the worker immediately.
However, if the employer gets approval from the labor standards inspection chief under one of the conditions below, the employee won’t have a right to receive notice or the said allowance:
The company is no longer to operate due to a force majeure event, such as an unforeseeable event, or disaster;
The employee’s actions are the cause of dismissal due to constant tardiness, frequently not showing up for work without a reason (for over two weeks), committing a crime, falsifying their resume, or violating work rules.
Restrictions Regarding Dismissal: Know Your Rights
While the abovementioned conditions give the employee the right to terminate your contract, some rules ban the employer from terminating an employment contract under specific conditions. If you’re fired under one of the following conditions, it will render the dismissal invalid:
Being fired due to reporting your employee for illegal activity
Being fired during pregnancy or within the first year of giving birth
Additionally, there are certain cases where letting an employee go isn’t forbidden, but doing so will put the company in a tough spot in front of an arbitral tribunal or a court of law. These are:
Being fired while on a work-related injury leave or during the following 30 days after the leave ends
Being fired while on childcare or maternity leave, or during the following 30 days after the employee returns to work
You’re Fired, Now What?
Keeping everything I shared so far in mind, if you happen to get fired, there are a few steps to take so you can cover all of your bases.
The most important one is obtaining a dismissal notice (解雇通知書 or "kaiko tsuchisho") from your employer, which includes the official reasons you were fired in a clear and definitive way.
To ask for the notice, all you need to do is request the reasonings for the termination of your contract in a written manner. The company is legally obligated to provide you with the document.
The reason why this is so important is that, according to a precedent in Japanese Labor Law, the employer is limited by the reasons stated in the dismissal notice. This means that the company can’t change the facts and has to stick with what it initially claimed in the event of a dispute.
Another reason why it’s important to get the dismissal notice in writing is because your method of contesting the dismissal will depend heavily on it.
Whether your firing was an ordinary dismissal (普通解雇 or "futsu kaiko"), a layoff due to the unavoidable downsizing of the company (整理解雇 or "seiri kaiko"), or a dismissal for contract violations (懲戒解雇 or "chokai kaiko") significantly affects how your case will be litigated or arbitrated.
So, make sure to request the notice in writing, and remember that your employer is legally obligated to provide it for you.
Avoid Accidentally Accepting Your Dismissal
As I said, when your employer suggests that you should quit or actively fires you, you do have the option to refuse your dismissal, which you’ll also have to contest in a court of law or labor tribunal later down the line, considering neither you nor your employer backs down.
That being said, even if you ignore your employer’s so-called suggestion to quit or outright dismissal and continue to work, you may still want to tread carefully as some actions may later be interpreted as acceptance.
For instance, asking for severance or payments for your pension can be interpreted as negotiations for you to leave the company. When the conflict is placed in front of a court or tribunal, this fact can be accepted as your acceptance of the dismissal, which leads you to lose your upper hand in the proceedings.
Another thing to be wary of here is receiving any payments from your employer upon the dismissal in question. In practice, employees do this so they can prove they negotiated your leaving and even paid you severance.
So, if you receive any payments such as this, it’s important to make it clear that you don’t accept the payment. Doing so will help you keep your case strong in future disputes.
When Can You Expect to Be Compensated: Surviving In The Meantime
Even if you’ve been wrongfully dismissed and are sure that you’re entitled to compensation or severance/pension pay, you won’t be able to get immediate results, and even the best lawyer out there can’t change this.
Litigation takes time, and even though a tribunal may see through the case faster, the award/verdict may still be contested, and it may take a long time to have a final verdict legally enforced.
So, what to do in the meantime? Surviving on the mere possibility of winning doesn’t seem possible, as you won’t be paid your salary until the issue is resolved. In the case you’re challenging the validity of your dismissal, you’re not even eligible for unemployment payments, as you’re claiming that you’re not actually unemployed in a court of law.
Luckily, there’s another form of payment you can apply for in these specific cases, which is called kari-kyufu. This system allows you to receive payments while you’re awaiting your employment to be reinstated by the court, but you’ll need to provide proof as to why you believe your dismissal was invalid.
This can be proven by a letter from your lawyer and the arguments you provide will be interpreted in your favor unless otherwise is clearly true. To learn more about this, I recommend contacting Japan’s employment office, Hello Work.
Read Up on Unemployment: More Resources
While this post acts as pretty much a crash course on getting fired and reacting to it in an ideal way, there’s still a lot to be said about unemployment and quitting your job in Japan, as well as what happens after.
So, while this is it for getting fired, if you want to be absolutely prepared for all the work-related disaster scenarios, you may want to read up on my guide on unemployment and how to cope with it as a foreigner in Japan.
As for another point of concern regarding the termination of your contract, which is quitting, I have a detailed guide on how to prepare and handle it the best way. Be sure to check it out to learn how to quit your job the right way and avoid the common pitfalls.
Lastly, on the topic of changing jobs, I have another comprehensive resource that complements the article about quitting, where you can learn about the rules and the culture around changing jobs frequently.
If, however, finding a job is a more imminent need for you at the moment, why not check out the Japan Dev job board? It’s updated frequently with job opportunities from the best companies in Japan that are personally vetted by our team, some of which even allow working remotely.
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