In another case of death by overwork, or "karoshi," a male employee of Nomura Real Estate Development Co. in his 50s who had been under the discretionary working system killed himself in 2016.

The man had put in more than 180 hours a month in overtime, which led to the deterioration of his health.

The case came to light after Nomura Real Estate was rebuked by the labor bureau for its illegal practices concerning the discretionary working system, which the Abe administration has been controversially trying to expand.

Employees under the system are paid predetermined wages regardless of how many overtime hours they actually worked, based on the assumption that they will put in certain amounts of overtime.

The male employee’s job had not been one subject to the discretionary working system. However, the major real estate developer, based in Tokyo, had illegally included him in the group of employees who work under it, sources said.

After his bereaved family applied to the labor ministry’s Tokyo Labor Bureau for recognition that he died from overwork, the bureau started investigating Nomura Real Estate to gauge the actual working conditions of its employees.

Based on the results of the investigation, the labor bureau issued a special directive to the firm on Dec. 25, 2017, and announced the instruction the next day. On Dec. 26, the bureau also notified the bereaved family of the recognition that he died from overwork.

According to the sources, the man in his 50s was one of the employees in charge of “relocation,” which entails temporarily leasing houses of people who are transferred to other areas.

He was working in the Tokyo head office, and was engaged in soliciting residents, making and canceling contracts with them, and dealing with real estate brokers. As a result, he was kept busy handling difficulties with customers and brokers.

His long working hours continued from around autumn 2015. In addition, he was often forced to come into the office for his job on holidays. As a result, his physical condition worsened. He took a leave of absence in spring 2016. Though he later returned to work, he committed suicide in September 2016.

His bereaved family applied to the labor bureau in spring 2017 for recognition that his suicide resulted from overwork.

The bureau’s Shinjuku Labor Standards Inspection Office found that the male employee’s overtime for one month from the second half of November 2015 exceeded 180 hours.

The inspection office recognized that, due to the long working hours, he suffered a mental disorder and eventually killed himself.

At Nomura Real Estate, the records of working hours were based on voluntary declarations. Because of that, the working hours he declared were much less than the actual hours he put in.

The company had introduced the discretionary working system, which was intended to be applied to employees engaged in planning businesses. Of its 1,900 employees, about 600 were working under the system. However, the 600 included those who were not subject to the discretionary system. The male employee in his 50s was one of them.

Illegally including him in the group of people subject to the discretionary system could have prompted his long working hours.

On Dec. 25, 2017, the labor bureau ordered Nomura Real Estate’s head office to correct its illegal practices. It also implemented a special instruction to the firm’s president, Seiichi Miyajima. The next day, it announced the instruction in a news conference, an extremely rare practice for the bureau.

Asked what prompted the bureau to open the investigation, a bureau official said, “We can’t answer (the question).”

Meanwhile, Nomura Real Estate told The Asahi Shimbun, “We have nothing to say.”

In the current Diet session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and labor minister Katsunobu Kato cited the special order to Nomura Real Estate as a concrete case that showed that the government had cracked down on the illegal introduction of the discretionary working system.

However, the special instruction resulted from the fact that the bereaved family of the male employee applied to the labor standards inspection office for recognition that his suicide was caused by overwork.

The Abe administration has decided to delete the expansion of the range of workers subject to the discretionary system from bills on labor reform and postpone the submission of legislation on the expansion to the Diet in 2019 or later.

(This article was written by Shun Niekawa and Takuro Chiba.)