Rocking the Boat
A reader recently wrote in with the following interesting question:
"I'm in my second month of seishain employment with an IT company, but in my fourth month of employment overall (I started under contract in 2005). The company mentioned nothing about a probation period after I converted to seishain, but among the paperwork items that I signed was a Hello Work form which has the standard "3 ka getsu" (3 months) written at the bottom of it. I'm fairly confident I will keep my job, but am reluctant to ask about the subject since I will be potentially rocking the boat. In your opinion, am I still under probation?"
This is a good question and raises a number of issues. Now remember that I am not a lawyer, so you should always take questions like this to either someone practicing law or the Labor Standards Office. However, since the Japanese are so big on forms as a statement of contract, my guess is that if the Hello Work form says 3 months and you haven't been informed of an extension, then you are a seishain.
However, here's where other questions are raised. Firstly, why is it that our reader fears rocking the boat? It certainly is true that foreigners who ask lots of questions or make personal requests are often labeled difficult or complainers, and our reader doesn't want to create that image. But if he doesn't confirm his status, he may wait a considerable period before anyone remembers to talk to him - not just about probation, but pay reviews and promotions as well. Especially in smaller companies, such as his company, it is entirely possible that everyone is just so busy they simply forgot to follow up on the probation.
The answer here is to establish a management connection the Japanese way, with someone who can ask these questions on your behalf without rocking the boat. The best person is your immediate boss - and the connection you want to have is one where he/she likes your work and wants to keep you and so will be willing to check with HR or the Bucho on your behalf.
I suggested to the reader to approach the question by asking the boss something like."Kacho, how do you feel about my work? Is it OK?" If he/she says "yes", then ask if he/she can talk to HR about confirming your status. If he says "no" well, leave things alone...
By taking no action, in an effort to not be a complainer, then it is possible that you would be leaving the door open for the company to claim that you never were confirmed as a seishain - if there is trouble or an economic downturn later. My guess is that you would win the argument, on the basis of what was written in the Hello Work form - but since the form doesn't appear to be our reader's Employment Contract, he should also check the company's Employment Rules, which are compulsory and should be available from HR.
The message here is that if you don't bring up the subject with the company, then you are setting yourself up for a possible confrontation later, with unclear results. If the company decides you never were a seishain, then they can fire you arbitrarily and you lose many company benefits as well.
So do you rock the boat to clear up such issues? I think the simple answer is: if you feel that bringing the subject up may cause your job to be in jeopardy, then keep quiet. But do send email to managers or retain any evidence that would indicate the company consider you a full time employee.
Else, if you feel that your job is safe, which is the case for our reader, then use the traditional approach of asking your nearest paternal figure (Kacho) for help.