If you've ever wondered what the rules are for holidays in Japan, look no further. I will try to give a run down on what's normal and what the labor law says. As always, with articles like this, I encourage you to use the material as a guideline only, and seek proper legal advice before acting.
The Japanese labor law says that all full-time employees are due 10 days paid leave after they have satisfactorily finished 6 months of employment. "Satisfactory" usually means that they have attended the workplace for at least 80% of the required total workdays. So, even if you've been sick during your first 6 months, so long as you hit the 80%, you should be able to get your holiday allowance.
Once you receive the 10 days allowance, you are allowed to take this time off all at once, or to space it out until the next allocation, one year later (at the 18-month mark). My advice is that you always leave a couple of days unused, so that if you get sick, you have some paid days off to recover. Your holidays can typically be carried over 2 years, check the Work Rules displayed at your office, or your own employment contract because some companies allow a longer period.
My advice on storing up some unused holidays implies that Japanese companies don't give sick leave, and indeed many smaller firms don't. Being paid to be sick is not a concept that traditional Japanese firms understand. However, recently in an effort to attract better employees, some larger firms and some multinationals are now starting to offer sick leave. However, this is company-by-company and it is not a right. Often what I do in my firms is to give an extra 3 days holiday, which functions as a provision towards covering ordinary sickness. The only difference in our case is that we don't allow this extra 3 days to be carried over to the next year.
Annual holidays attract a special long service loading in Japan. For each year you serve, up to 6 1/2 years (typically), you get an extra day or two of holiday each year. Thus after 6 1/2 years, you can take up to 20 days paid leave a year. Beyond this term, some companies continue to add more days, but most cap it. The actual years served and days leave earned are as follows:
1 1/2 years 1 additional paid day off
2 1/2 years 2 additional paid days off
3 1/2 years 4 additional paid days off
4 1/2 years 6 additional paid days off
5 1/2 years 8 additional paid days off
6 1/2 years or more 10 additional paid days off
A special note is that after you have been with a company more than 7 1/2 years, you can take up to 40 days paid leave in a single year. Clearly this would be in cases where you had paid leave carried over from a previous year because the company was too busy or had internal problems.
Can you take paid leave when you want? Or does the company have a right to tell you when to take it? My understanding is that in principle you can take the leave when and how you want, so long as you give your company sufficient notice. Usually one month is considered sufficient.
That said, there is a provision in the law that allows your company to postpone scheduled leave in times of hardship or difficulty for the firm. The question is whether or not a postponement would be seen as being reasonable or not, and I guess that is a question you’d have to take to the courts if push came to shove.
I don't know of many companies that prevent employees from taking holidays; it's a pretty fundamental right. The problem is usually the other way around, where traditionally minded Japanese staff don't take the holidays owed them out of a feeling of duty to the company. Pressured managers in particular let their yearly leave allocations slide and expire. This obviously isn't good for one's mental health or family relationships and senior management need to be ready to persuade such valuable employees to take time off for their own good.
Next week we cover less common types of paid leave.