Well, it looks like the Japanese authorities are using Dentsu to show they mean business about enforcing anti-death-by-overwork laws in the country. Maybe.
A year and a half after a young Dentsu worker at the agency killed herself after working hundreds of overtime hours in the months leading up to her death several publications in Japan (including The Asahi Shimbun) report that prosecutors are bringing charges against the company.
Emphasis on the company. No individuals have been charged, so no one at the firm has to worry about going to jail or being tagged with a criminal record.
So to what extent the government actually means business will depend on the size of the fine they seek to impose on the company, which has not been disclosed. And it’s not a sure thing—the Tokyo Summary Court has to decide whether or not a fine is warranted.
Death by overwork (or so-called "karoshi") is an unfortunate trend in Japan, affecting a number of industries in part due to a labor shortage in the country. Thus, many workers are expected to work what most reasonable people would consider excessive overtime hours to fill the talent pool void.
A Japanese labor agency last October ruled that the Dentsu employee’s death was at least partly attributable to “karoshi.”
There have been significant repercussions already from the tragedy, including the resignation of Dentsu’s CEO last December. And the company has settled with the family of the victim, Matsuri Takahashi. There was an undisclosed payment to the family.
And Dentsu says it has taken steps to reform its work policies.
Unless the Japanese Labor agency really screwed up, Dentsu appears to be complicit in the death of a young woman who felt pressure to work endless hours to help clients sell more widgets.
If the court agrees, how does it determine the proper monetary sanction? It’s a tough case on many levels, including how to insure that justice is served. And, more importantly, how to reduce the chances of karoshi occurring in the future.