Photo/Illutration A joint government building housing the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward (Suguru Takizawa)

Employers who deny pregnant women's requests to take time off during the novel coronavirus pandemic may be named and shamed under a new labor ministry guideline coming in early May.

In response to complaints from expecting mothers who fear they may contract the virus by going to work, the ministry has been discussing expanding the Equal Employment Opportunity Law to require employers to grant their time off requests.

Labor minister Katsunobu Kato said the ministry is looking to finalize the guideline as soon as possible.

“I think there are cases of pregnant women who are working and feeling anxious and stressed about the spreading virus infection,” Kato said on April 30 at a meeting of the Upper House Budget Committee.

“(The ministry) will listen to labor and management and work to reach a conclusion as fast as possible,” he added.

Though pregnant women who contract pneumonia are believed to be at higher risk of developing severe symptoms, many in Japan have been denied their requests to take leave from work during the outbreak.

Several opposition party lawmakers have taken up the issue and pushed to change the labor regulations.

The guideline will require employers to allow pregnant staff to take days off or reduce work hours if a doctor decides they are experiencing acute stress from working.

It also advises doctors to encourage pregnant women to reduce their work hours and take days off when they are experiencing severe morning sickness or may be at risk of losing their baby.

Employers will be required to follow the doctor’s recommendations and adjust their scheduling to accommodate pregnant staff.

The ministry hopes to apply the guideline during the coronavirus pandemic to mitigate the psychological burden on pregnant women.

If employers do not comply, the government can publicly name the company as a form of punishment.