Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease & The Case For Paid Sick Leave

Jul 1, 2015

HFMD is “typically characterized by a mild fever followed by a rash of flat discolored spots and bumps that may blister, involving the skin of the hands, feet, oral cavity, and occasionally buttocks and genitalia.”  [Source: Wikipedia]

In regards to this and other illnesses that people are sometimes afflicted by, General Union is often asked: “Does my company have to provide paid sick leave?”

The answer to that question is (unfortunately) simple: No

Paid sick leave – a common right in many developed countries – doesn’t actually exist in Japanese law.

If someone succumbs to an illness, they are expected to use one of their remaining “paid holidays” to cover their absence from work.

This can be especially egregious when an employee falls sick and is ordered to stay at home by their school or company, but is still expected to use their holidays if they wish to get paid for the days that they are not at work.

It also raises the question of what someone is supposed to do if they do not have any holidays remaining to cover the duration of their illness.

For example, most employees (who are new to a company) may only be allocated ten days of paid holiday for the entire year, with many kindergartens setting 5 of these.

If they are unlucky enough to contract HFMD, an illness that commonly takes around ten days to recover from, they face the very real prospect of losing all of their legally granted holidays due to simple misfortune.

The General Union believes that this is wrong.

Paid sick leave should be mandatory for everyone, regardless of their occupation, nationality, or employment situation.

While it is true that some companies DO provide paid sick leave for their employees, these companies are few and far between, and exceptions to the rule.

If you are a foreigner who is working in Japan, it is unlikely that you are working for one such company, and are therefore expected to use your paid annual leave just like everyone else.

The exception is shakai hoken.

If you contract an illness and need be absent from work for more than three days, you can claim a sickness allowance of between 66% and 80% of your salary under shakai hoken / shigaku kyosai.

However, as many companies do not enroll their employees with shakai hoken, this allowance is beyond the reach of many people.

As teachers and child care workers are far more likely to contract illnesses from their place of work (with schools being notable hotspots for viral infections), is it fair that those who work with children as a profession should be expected to use their paid annual leave to recover from circumstances beyond their control?

The General Union believes that viruses and illnesses are an occupational hazard of working with children, and should be treated as such.

Isn’t it time that that we started demanding paid sick leave to allow for these unavoidable situations?