PARENTS

A Canadian Single Dad Says He Was Harassed For Taking Paternity Leave In Japan

"They wouldn’t invite me to meetings, they wouldn’t look at me, they wouldn’t talk to me.”

11/23/2017 09:49 EST | Updated 11/23/2017 12:52 EST
Glen Wood

It's called pata-hara in Japan.

Paternity harassment is such a widespread problem in Japanese business culture that even though paternity leave is a legal right, only three per cent of men take it.

And Canadian Glen Wood says he's experiencing pata-hara firsthand. Wood, who's worked at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. in Japan since 2012, says he suffered through two years of mistreatment after informing his company he was going to become a father and intended to take paternity leave.

"I love Japan and I love my job. I felt like both were betraying me and casting me aside because I had a son," Wood, 47, told HuffPost Canada.

"If a company crosses human rights lines or legal lines then there needs to be a check and balance. It is a universal human right to have children and continue your career."

Getty Images

In Japan, chronic overworking is such a major issue that there's a word for it, too: karoshi.

There are thousands of suspected deaths from overwork in Japan each year, according to Forbes, including a high-profile case of a 31-year-old journalist who died of heart failure after working 159 hours of overtime in a month.

The country allows fathers to take a full year of paternity leave, but few take it, which just reinforces the male-dominated work culture, according to Quartz Media.

The systems, programs and laws are actually quite good in supporting maternity and paternity leave, Wood said. The Japanese government recently announced it hopes to increase the proportion of men who take paternity leave to 13 per cent by 2020, for instance.

"Nevertheless, large, traditional corporations feel they can operate above the laws," he added.

In Canada, only one in 10 eligible fathers claim paternity leave benefits, according to Macleans, and those who did only took an average of 13 weeks off work. Research from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management found that fathers who take on care giving roles face more harassment in the workplace than both men without children and other fathers in more "traditional" roles.

Mental and physical collapse

Wood, who was born in St. Ann's, Ont., is a single father to Alexander, age two. Wood and his partner decided that Wood would raise his son, he said.

When Wood first mentioned paternity leave to his company, they told him "it wasn't possible," he alleges. His application was rejected several times, he said.

Glen Wood

Alexander was born in Oct. 2015, about six weeks before his due date. He was placed in the NICU and it was very "touch and go," Wood said. Wood waited as long as he could before taking leave to care for his son, he said, but eventually left work before his application had been approved.

"It was clear they were ready to push me aside," Wood said.

Wood's application for paternity leave wasn't approved internally until December, after he took a DNA test proving he was his son's father, according to a court petition obtained by Bloomberg.

When Wood returned to work in March he was excluded from meetings, recruitment interviews, and travel abroad, according to Bloomberg. He was harassed to the point of mental and physical collapse, eventually falling over at work, Wood told the National Post.

"It was like junior high school girls' type of behaviour — they shut me out," he told the newspaper. "They wouldn't invite me to meetings, they wouldn't look at me, they wouldn't talk to me."

Wood eventually took six months of sick leave, according to Bloomberg. When he returned to work, after rejecting a demotion and salary cut, Wood was placed on non-paid leave, "which is tantamount to being fired," he told Brand 2020.

YouTube/Brand 2020
Glen Wood gives an interview about paternity harassment with Brand 2020 in a clip posted to YouTube.

Now Wood is fighting for his job. His lawyers filed a petition with the Tokyo District Court in October, demanding that the firm withdraw his suspension, according to The Japan Times. Wood's visa is dependent on his salary, he told the newspaper.

"It is important to note that this isn't a case of a 'non-Japanese not following the Japanese culture'. On the contrary, I am simply obeying the rules of Japan and asking the company to do likewise," Wood told HuffPost Canada.

A spokesperson for Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. denied the harassment claims, telling The Japan Times that it actively supports its employees who want time off for paternity leave and that it did the "utmost to enable Mr. Glen's continuation of his employment."

Wood says he wants to help his company become, in fact, "the most trusted global financial institution."

"They can get there but there is a lot of work to do," he said from Tokyo.

"I want my job back so that I can help them achieve this goal... and to make sure others do not face this issue."

Also on HuffPost: