Japan has a number of laws pertaining to labor and the protection of workers. These include: the Labor Standards Law which sets forth the minimum standards on working conditions; the Industrial Safety and Health Law which sets forth the minimum standards on working conditions regarding health and safety; and the Minimum Wage Law. These laws apply in principle to all enterprises in Japan, regardless of whether the employer is Japanese or foreign, or the company is a foreign or Japanese-registered corporation. They also apply to foreign workers in Japan provided that the foreign workers meet the definition of workers under these laws. Japan has a government-run employment agency known as "Hello Work" with offices throughout Japan. Hello Work offers free support for people looking for work and companies looking for workers; all industries are covered by the agency. Similarly, some regional public organizations and education institutions such as universities also provide employment services for free. There are also many privately-run employment agencies; these come in several types, including executive search-type agencies, as well as those which build up a database of registered potential employees and employers, and where the agency collects fees on a contingency basis (i.e., when someone from their database is successfully employed with a company). Japan also has a wide range of newspapers, magazines (e.g., job-transfer magazines, industry-specific magazines, etc.), and Internet websites through which companies can find employees. As far as labor contracts are concerned, the principle of freedom of contract applies to the hiring of workers, and allows an employer to decide what kinds of workers and how many to hire. There are, however, some restrictions. For instance, under the Equal Employment Opportunities Law, employers must afford equal opportunities regardless of sex when recruiting and hiring workers. For that reason, employers may not specify male or female employees when advertising situations vacant, with the exception of a few specific positions.
When hiring workers, companies enter into labor contracts with each worker. At that time, the employer must notify the employees in writing of the following employment conditions. Any part of a labor contract that does not meet the standards laid down by law is invalid. For example, a contract containing provisions such as "the company may dismiss the worker at any time for any reason," "the basic wage shall include all overtime pay," and "social insurance fees shall be borne entirely by the worker" (in the case of a business establishment covered by social insurance) is invalid insofar as these provisions are concerned. It is also illegal to impose a penalty for non-fulfillment of a labor contract. For example, it is illegal to include a clause such as the following: "If a worker retires within two years of joining the company, he/she must pay to the company the sum of 500,000 yen." However, this does not preclude an employer from claiming damages from a worker for losses actually incurred. Labor contracts generally do not stipulate a term. Where a term is specified, however, it must be no longer than three years except in a few special cases. However, a worker may resign by notifying his/her employer at any time as long as at least one year has elapsed since the date of the start of the contract term.
Working conditions such as wages, working hours, etc. may be changed by agreement between the company and the worker. Although the company may not change the working conditions in principle in a manner disadvantageous to the worker by changing the rules of employment, if the change to the rules of employment is reasonable in light of the extent of the disadvantage to be incurred by the worker, the need for changing the working conditions, the appropriateness of the contents of the changed rules of employment, the status of negotiations with a labor union or the like, or any other circumstances pertaining to the change to the rules of employment, the working conditions that constitute the contents of a labor content shall be in accordance with such changed rules of employment.
Employers are allowed to set a limited period of probation prior to fully employing somebody, so as to see whether or not the probationary employee is able and suitable for the job. Probation periods generally last for about three months. However, it should be noted that if the employer decides not to fully employ somebody during or after the probation period, this refusal to employ is treated in the same manner as dismissal of an employee; in order for such a refusal to be legally allowed, valid reasons for refusal (which were not evident at the time of probationary employment) must have come to light during the period of probation, and it must be objectively reasonable for the employer to refuse to fully employ that person for the aforementioned valid reasons. When hiring a worker, a company may require that a guarantee of good conduct be provided by a relative of the worker or similar guarantor, and such a guarantee is held to be legally valid. The term of this guarantee is deemed to be three years if not specified, and up to a maximum of five years where a term is specified.
The contractual relationship between a company and directors, etc. is, as a rule, considered to take the form of an engagement agreement as opposed to a labor contract. Accordingly, the relationship is, as a rule, subject to the Companies Act rather than labor law. If a director, etc. does not have the right to represent a company and is employed in a manner very similar to that of a worker, he/she may be simultaneously subject to labor law as a dual worker/director, etc.