A Japanese court has ruled that overwork pushed a 28-year-old Fujitsu Ltd. software developer to commit suicide.
The worker killed himself in a company-supplied dormitory in March 2002 shortly after completing a project, according to local news reports that quoted a lawyer for his family. In January of 2002 he was diagnosed with depression because of pressure at work but the following month he worked 159 hours of overtime, the reports said.
Japan is famous for its long work hours. Staff often work well into the evening and in many cases don't get fully paid for the additional work they do. But suicide due to pressures from overwork has only started to be recognized by Japanese courts as a work-related death in recent years. The designation is important because it means the deceased's family is eligible to receive compensation from the government.
The Atsugi Labor Standards Inspection Office initially rejected a claim from the Fujitsu worker's family but the claim was upheld by the Tokyo District Court after the family submitted an appeal.
The worker joined Fujitsu in 2000 and worked compiling operating manuals for medical administration systems, the reports said.
Fujitsu responded to the ruling with a brief statement that said it took the matter very seriously.
"As a part of our effort to manage our employees' [total] hours of work, we are conducting training sessions for management levels, as well as providing a system where management could check employee attendance records on real-time basis," the statement said.
Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The number of people that killed themselves in 2005 rose from the previous year by 227 people to 32,552, according to National Police Agency (NPA) figures. Of those, 72 percent were men. Around a third were in their 60s or older, 23 percent were in their 50s, 16 percent in their 40s and 14 percent in their 30s.
The NPA blamed work-related issues including overwork for 652 of the deaths.
Japan's parliament recently passed a law that urges national and local government to work on programs to tackle the problem and companies to provide mental health care for their employees.