Japanese employee’s pay docked for starting lunch 3 minutes early

How long is too long of a lunch break? For one company in Japan, it only takes starting your break three minutes early to get punished for being a habitually late worker.

An unnamed 64-year-old employee, who works at the public waterworks bureau in the southwestern Japan city of Kobe, was punished after it was discovered that he had started his scheduled lunch break three minutes early on 26 occasions over a seven-month period. What was he doing with those extra 180 seconds of freedom? He was slipping away to buy a takeaway bento box.

The employee reportedly said he left to go buy lunch because he “needed a change of pace.”

Eating 3 minutes early can get your pay docked

For the crime of not being punctual, this employee was docked a half day’s pay. The civil servant had violated a public service law requiring city officials to “concentrate on their jobs,” according to the bureau.

But that was not enough of a punishment. Bureau officials were so embarrassed by this civil servant’s actions that they gave a televised press conference last week to apologize for it. “It’s deeply regrettable that this misconduct took place. We’re sorry,” a bureau official told reporters, bowing deeply on camera.

Local backlash to the news found this punishment to be an overblown reaction. One Japanese user wrote on Twitter, “It’s tough life nowadays. No tea break, no cigarette break, no chatting.”

This incident follows a troubling trend of overwork in Japan. Many Japanese employers expect their employees to work punishingly long hours to show their dedication to the job at the expense of employee’s mental health.

There’s even a name for it in Japanese, “karoshi,” which translates to “death by overwork.” In April 2015, labor officials ruled 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi’s suicide the result of stress caused by her advertising agency, which had her working more than 100 hours overtime. To address karoshi, Japan’s lower house passed a bill that caps overtime at 100 hours last month.

“Workplaces reliant on the culture of long hours no longer fulfill the need of employees and don’t boost productivity,” Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Shigeyuki Goto said about the bill.