Illegal Contract Clauses (Part I) - Joytalk

In some countries, an illegal clause in a contract will void the entire contract. However, it may surprise some people to learn that this is not the case in Japan.

If a contract contains illegal clauses, the contract remains valid - however, the illegal clauses in question can not be enforced, and are always superseded by the written law.

With this in mind, the General Union is looking into writing a series of articles that will seek to highlight and challenge the various illegal clauses that exist within the contracts that dispatch companies, English conversation schools, and other companies in Japan, often require foreign employees to sign.


If you believe that your contract has illegalities within its numerous clauses and agreements, and you would like us to highlight these concerns in an article, please get in touch with the union via the contact information that can be found at the bottom of this article, and we can talk about things with you in further detail (although, please understand that we do reserve the right to not write articles for every example given to us).

For now, take a look at this clause that is written into one of the contracts that Joytalk Co. Ltd - a company that "pride[s itself] on providing high quality Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) ... in the Kanto and Tohoku regions of Japan" - uses.


On the surface, this clause may not seem particularly strange or suspicious. It seems to be a simple resignation clause that requires employees to give the company 31 days of notice if they wish to terminate their contract with the company. Many companies follow similar practices, and most people will probably find this to be a reasonable expectation.

Indeed, for the first contract with a company, there are cases in which this may be perfectly reasonable.

Be that as it may, if someone has re-contracted with a company (for example: someone who has been working for a company for more than a year), this clause is illegal as it violates a labor law (enshrined in the Civil Code), which declares that it is only necessary to give 14 days of resignation notice.

To wit, Civil Code Article 627 (1) states: "If the parties have not specified the term of employment, either party may request to terminate at any time. In such cases, employment shall terminate on the expiration of two weeks from the day of the request to terminate."

A less noticeable (yet more egregious) illegality, however, exists within the part that reads, "Resignation during the specified contract period is not allowed, in principle, without any proper, unavoidable reason."

It is fair to say that most people would interpret this to mean that, once someone has signed a contract with Joytalk, that person is not allowed to resign from the company at any point before that contract expires. Obviously, this is as illegal as illegal gets. There are numerous laws that state that a company cannot force someone to work for them; nor can a company prevent someone from finding other employment.

However, the problems don't end there.

The addition of the sentence which states that "[i]t is possible that compensation for damages due to non-performance of obligation may be claimed by the company" reveals the true intent of this clause.

Fraudulent "legalese" like this, which has no legal basis or clout, exists for the sole purpose of intimidating employees (often new to Japan) into allowing themselves to be manipulated by the company (simply because they don't know any better, and misplaced their trust), and creates a "chilling effect" that can then be used to keep other people in line.

While there is no shame in admitting that you "don't know what you don't know", it is this (understandable) ignorance that companies often prey upon in order to contravene labor laws and get away with it without anyone knowing the wiser.

The good news is that there's an easy way to fight back (and win!): education. Knowing what is legal and not legal is the first step in making sure that your rights are being respected instead of stepped on.

Be vigilant - don't let contract clauses like these intimidate you with their manipulative "legalese".


If you are being threatened in this way, if you feel that you are at the mercy of an exploitative contract, or if you would like to learn more about how to resign from a company, please feel free to contact us at:

union(@)generalunion.org


Do you have any experiences of other illegal contracts or clauses that you'd like to discuss? Talk about them on our official Facebook page at:

http://www.facebook.com/GeneralUnionJapan/


Additional information