Japan’s ALT Dispatch firm Interac may be using tricky contracts to get around J-labor law.

This is only coming from a Facebook group, but I read this exchange from earlier this week:

What the one commenter reports is that Interac is writing a term in their employment contracts to say that the employee is “agreeing” that they can be dismissed at will. There is no “at will” employment in Japan. So what is going on?

It isn’t clear at the moment, but the commenter also is telling us that there is some sort of other form that Interac tries to get its employees to sign at the end of the contract, to the effect that the person is “quitting”, (not that Interac is no longer offering continued employment, term-limited or otherwise.) I really do believe that this paper is a way to try to get around unemployment insurance, because I had IBM Japan pull that with me in 2009. They sought to have me sign a confidentiality agreement going forward, but then, in the text, there was language to the effect of my saying that I was resigning (if I had signed it, which of course I didn’t).

Most foreigners in Japan aren’t lawyers, and, so, maybe they aren’t looking at things a certain way. This is the constant problem of the Gray Zone, the shades-of-gray zone, that the Japanese government tolerates when it comes to foreigners doing business with foreigners in Japan. There are the laws that apply to everyone in Japan. Then, there are these casual little mentions and asides, as if they can create a loophole or some safe harbor to go around the law. Because Japan only weakly enforces the law, does not mean that it isn’t the law.

I don’t understand how people doing business in a country that does not have at-will employment try to get around that by writing in a clause saying, “terminated at any time.” Or its variant: termination with 30-days notice (leaving out the part that 30-days notice is just one requirement to end an employment relationship. The other part is that you must have “socially justifiable” reason to end the employment.)

“We agreed to thirty days notice!”

“We’ve given you the thirty days notice!”

There are a couple of variations on that one, too, but the unspoken assumption is that there is “at will” employment at the end of the 30 days. No!

[Update 3/18/12: On follow-up, we are learning that the “at will” clause is only for either specified things, or something like that. Still, it has me wondering whether the paragraph is in keeping with either the 2008 Labor Contract Law (which contains the safe-harbor for term-limited employment), or the overall 1947 Labor Standards Act, which the ’08 Law has to comport with for other matters. Employment rights really are made to be a gray area for foreigners in Japan, isn’t it?]

[Update 5/28/12: According to both Labor Contract Law, Article 17, and this piece from the ruling party, concerning dispatch workers, a fixed-term contract cannot have any such early termination clause at all!]