The Truth About Non-Socialization Clauses

Aug 8, 2017


The e-mail in consideration asked the following question:

“My [English Conversation School] has a non-socialization clause in my contract. Is it legal for my employer to have this clause? What would likely happen if I violated it? Thanks for your help.”

In case you’re not familiar with the topic, a non-socialization clause (also known as a “non-fraternization clause”) is a clause in a contract that forbids an employee from having any social contact with students/customers that frequent the English Conversation School that the employee happens to be working for.

For example, lets say that you work at an English Conversation School and you happen to hit it off with one of your students.

They give you their LINE ID (“phone number” seems a little too outdated), and you arrange to meet them at a coffee shop when you both have some time free.

They’re interested in you; you’re interested in them…

Maybe it’s the start of a beautiful relationship?

“WRONG!”, says your company. “NO FRIENDS FOR YOU!”

Your manager politely reminds you that your contract has a non-socialization clause and that you signed the contract so the clause is legally binding and –

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?

Like a jealous lover, the company gives you you a warning and an ultimatum: Your job or your new friend. Pick one.

It sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

(That’s because it is.)

As we’ve mentioned, the General Union has been fighting these kinds of invasive clauses for a long time.

Here’s the victory we won against (old) NOVA back in 2004:

As pictured (click for the full image), the Osaka District Court had this to say about such clauses:

“A comprehensive prohibition as [written] in this clause forbidding socialization cannot be held to be necessary. […] Forbidding in advance, in a comprehensive manner, any socialization between English conversation teachers and students in order to prevent trouble, and disciplining for a violation of this rule, cannot be admitted as fair or socially acceptable.”

That verdict seems very clear.

As the Osaka District Court ruled, a company cannot prohibit a an employee from socializing with someone else, no matter what kind of justification they use.

In regards to English Conversation Schools, this means – in theory – that a company cannot prohibit a teacher from socializing with a student outside of the place of employment.

In regards to Dispatch Companies, this means – in theory – that a company cannot prohibit a teacher from socializing with other teachers outside of the school environment (we’re obviously not talking about socializing with students outside of school).

Therefore, while one might not agree with the ethics of where such socialization may lead, it is clear that such socialization is perfectly legal and that any attempts to prevent such socialization are – in theory – illegal.

You might have noticed that we wrote “in theory” three times just now.

In reality, things are never quite so straightforward.

The problem with Japan is that while Japanese labor law is very strong, enforcement of those laws happens to be somewhat lacking.

While courts tend to rule that non-socialization clauses are illegal, the issue isn’t really about the law or court precedence per se – it is about who has the power in the workplace.

In reality, if a company was to fire you for socialization, it’s likely that no government agency would give you relief.

As with many other situations, if you wanted to fight the dismissal, you would have to take the matter to court (and then would the fight even be worth it?).

Strong union branches can battle such clauses without a court being involved and win reinstatement (in the case of dismissal), the removal of the clause from future contracts (to preempt such dismissals), or – at the very least -ensure that the rule isn’t enforced.

However, in small workplaces and areas in which the General Union isn’t as strong as others, the General Union’s policy is to recommend that people follow the policy or be as discreet about personal relationships as they can.

Discretion is the better part of valor.

What your company doesn’t know can’t hurt them you.