Sick Pay in Japan: What You Need to Know

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Nobody likes getting sick, but in a place as hard working as Japan, it can also be a financial burden. In a country where mandated sick leave isn’t really a thing, and the prevailing ideology is “if you can walk, you can work” it can be very tough to take time off to recover from all but the most serious of illnesses.

Of course, having to grin and bear it when you’ve got a heavy cold, fever or even a particularly aggressive hangover is just one of those things that come with the territory when we work in Japan.

However, what can we do when it’s more than just a cold? What if we have a terrible, debilitating accident, or we are hospitalized for an extended period of time?

Thankfully, there exists a government scheme to help cover medium to long-term illnesses such as this.

Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to find any mention of it in your orientation pack when you join your new company. The cynical truth is that many companies in Japan do not want this information shared, lest it harm their workers’ productivity levels.

Introducing…Injury and Sickness Allowance

However, today, please allow me to reveal to you the wonders of the Japanese government’s Injury and Sickness Allowance. 

The basic aim of this scheme is to ensure that workers can have adequate recuperation time from medium to long-term sickness without incurring any major financial hit. In short, it allows a worker to take a period of absence from work for up to 18 months and still receive up to 66% of their regular salary.

In short, it allows a worker to take a period of absence from work for up to 18 months and still receive up to 66% of their regular salary.

Terms and Conditions

There are a few conditions that need to be observed in order to qualify.

First of all, you would need to be absent from work for at least three consecutive days to qualify. These first three days are legally defined as “waiting days” and as such no benefits are paid to cover them. Hopefully you will still have three days of annual leave left at the time of your illness and can use them so you don’t lose any money.

You also need to be enrolled in and have been paying contributions to the Japanese national health insurance and pension schemes. It is against the law not to be enrolled in these schemes if you are staying in Japan for more than a year, so most of you should be on them already.

In addition, you need to be able to prove that you are currently undergoing treatment or recuperating from sickness or injury. You don’t necessarily need to be in hospital, or receiving ongoing care (recuperating at home is also acceptable) but you will need to provide medical evidence of your ailment. A doctor’s letter would be sufficient in this case.

You also need to be able to show that you are unable to perform your job due to this injury. For example, a broken leg may be a valid cause for a PE teacher to take time off, but perhaps not so for a call center worker.

Another point worth noting here: If your injury was caused by an accident at work, then injury and sickness allowance would not apply and is instead replaced by the “Worker’s Accident Compensation Insurance”, another government-supported scheme.

How much do you get?

Additionally, the figure of 66% of your salary does not always apply to everyone. If you have been insured for less than 12 months, then the lesser of the following two values will apply in determining your daily payment:

1) 66% of your average salary over the previous two months of continuous work, divided by 30

2) 66% average salary of all insured persons in Japan as of the end of September of the previous financial year, divided by 30

So, as an example, let’s say that you are an English teacher earning 250,000 yen per month. The average salary in Japan as of September last year was around 300,000 yen per month.

Option 1 as outlined above would produce a daily payout of 5,500 yen per day.

Option 2 would give you 6,600 yen per day.

So in the case of the English teacher, it would be 5,500 yen per day whilst you are sick.

In the case that you have been insured for more than 12 months prior to getting sick, then option 1 will apply in all instances. Whilst this is a disadvantage to the English teacher, it is advantageous to anyone fortunate enough to earn more than the national average wage.

Also, should you be unfortunate enough that your sickness leads to a permanent disability, then, at that point, your benefit payments will switch from the Injury and Sickness Allowance Scheme to the Disabled Employee’s Pension Scheme.

A piece of advice

As a final tip, I would say that, even with the provisions covered in this scheme, it is very important that you set aside some additional funds to cover your sickness in the short term.

Processing your payments for this scheme and getting them backdated to three days after you first took time off work can take several weeks in some cases. In that interim period you will have to make do without your salary or any other additional funds. Hospitals and clinics, even if you have national health insurance, will still require that you pay 30% of the costs, and such payments are usually taken on the day of treatment.

Although the vast majority of employers in Japan are honest and decent, I have encountered companies and even local governments in my time working in Osaka who were not as informed on these issues and not as forthcoming with information as they should have been. This sickness allowance is not a privilege or a benefit. In Japan, it is a legal right, and no reputable employer will seek to deny you it. However, as I said before, it pays to try and keep about one month’s salary saved up just in case things do get nasty with your employer. When you are sick, the last thing you need is an employment dispute.

Hopefully, you’ll never need to use what I’ve told you here today, but just in case, it’s always a good idea to be ready.

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Teacher, journalist and now blogger.

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