Japanese civil servants punished for leaving work two minutes early

The incident has sparked a debate over corporate work culture in modern times

Maroosha Muzaffar
Friday 19 March 2021 12:23
<p>Office workers and pedestrians cross a street in Tokyo on May 31, 2017</p>

Office workers and pedestrians cross a street in Tokyo on May 31, 2017

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Staff members of a Japanese education board were reportedly disciplined by their employer for leaving work two minutes earlier than the official closing time, several times over a period of two years, inviting comment on corporate work culture.

The employer, Funabashi City Board of Education in Chiba in Japan announced on March 10 that it had punished staff members who left work early with salary reduction, inviting ridicule for uncompromising corporate culture.

The staff, local news reported, said that they wanted to get an earlier bus home.

Instead of leaving work at the scheduled 5:15 pm, seven staffers were found to have left work at 5:13 pm at least 316 times from May 2019 to January 2021. Japan Times reported that the “ringleader” was a 59-year old counsellor who was in charge of attendance management at the Board’s Lifelong’s Learning Department.

The counsellor, found to be defrauding timecards, was punished with a one-third salary cut for the next three months. The other two “offenders” — a 27-year old director and a woman in her 60s — received written reprimands. They were both employed this fiscal year. Four others were strictly cautioned for punching out two minutes early.

In their defence, the staff members of the Board said they had informed their employer that had they left work at the scheduled 5:15 pm, they would have missed the 5:17 pm bus and would have had to wait 30 more minutes for the next bus home.

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The salary reduction of the counsellor makes Funabashi City Board of Education in Chiba richer by at least 137,000 yen (£903).

According to the board, when they asked the employees their reason for leaving earlier than the assigned time, they said, “They wanted to go home early.”

This incident has invited ridicule for the education board with thousands sympathising with the workers. Japan Times quotes one as saying, “How many companies pay properly on a minute-by-minute basis? If that were the case, then staff who work one minute overtime should get paid for it.”

Others made suggestions to make the lives of employees a little easier.

“It would be nice if, when they found out about the bus timetable, they could make some flexible arrangement for government workers, like getting them to come in a bit earlier instead.”

This isn’t the first time a Japan employee’s pay has been docked for leaving work just a few minutes earlier. In 2018, a 64-year old employee of the waterworks department in Kobe was docked half a day’s pay, according to the New York Times, for leaving his desk three minutes early to buy lunch. The incident prompted the waterworks department to hold a press conference and issue a public apology for the employee’s “transgression.”

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