The nature of the foreign worker in Japan is itinerant. It's not unusual for a fresh faced, overseas employee to rock up on these shores, realize the job they accepted from a thousand miles away is actually a reality, soil themselves, then quit after a few days and jump on the next flight back home. The English teaching gig is particularly vulnerable to such a scenario.
Stick around long enough to get familiar with Internet forums though, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that quitting your job in Japan is a nightmare of recriminations, scary (but usually empty) threats, and above all, a soul-crushing hassle! There's probably some truth to this (dependant on work relations), but in this writer's experience, it's all been a bit boring really.
A Common Myth
Unscrupulous bosses in Japan may try to scare foreign employees into NOT quitting by making out that their work visa is the property of the company. Quit your job, lose your visa. This is emphatically not true. The visa is the property of the Japanese government. Only they can revoke it.
Will They Revoke My Visa?
Current immigration rules state that you have three months after quitting a job to find a new one before authorities review the status of your visa (see a translation of this regulation here (Article 22-4/V)). This may be extended if you can provide suitable reasoning. How do they know you've quit your job? You're supposed to tell them, within 14 days. How do they know you've got a new job? Your supposed to tell them, within 14 days. Reality, however, probably dictates that some of us don't bother to inform immigration. Also, it's not at all clear how inclined immigration is to stay on top of this.
You'll often hear accounts of immigration officials letting such discrepancies slide. If you want to avoid any cold sweats though, we advise you to follow the rules!
The world over, there are people who never return to work from their toilet breaks. In Japan, too.
It's difficult to be conclusive on the question of timing. How much do you respect your current employer? How much do they need you? How desperately do you want to leave?
Company Gives Me One Month, I Have to Give Them Three!!
The Labor Standards Act (see translation here (Article 20/1)) states that employers must give at least 30 days notice of dismissal. The same act makes no statement about the period of notice for a resignation. This means that that one-month notice period floating around isn't true. According to the unions, periods of notice are based on precedents set in civil courts. Read this Q&A by General Union, in which they state that for unlimited term contracts, two weeks is sufficient. For the first year of a rolling, one-year contract, give notice as stipulated in the contract. For the following years, two weeks could be sufficient in most cases.
Familiarise yourself with Japan's Civil Code here. Head to Articles 627 and 628.
There are a lot of one-year contracts. In some industries their renewal is not made clear by the employer until a few days before expiration. Even so, it's not unusual for employers to demand three month's notice from their staff. Unsurprisingly, many of them ignore this. In fact, if working conditions violate your contract, you can quit at will, without notice. This brings us back to the eikaiwa industry. In many cases, it's unlikely that the company will make it too difficult for you to leave as they are often guilty of 'bending' employment regulations. Conversely, if such a company tries to 'stiff' a departing employee out of any due wages, they probably do so under the assumption that said employee won't take any action themselves (in this case because the employee doesn't know how). Be aware, the Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from imposing 'set fines' for quitting during a contract term. See Article 16.
The key word here is rishoku-todoke(離職届) - letter of release. In order to inform immigration of any employment changes, you may need this. Employers must provide it (on request), no questions asked. Bear in mind that it can't be given until after your final day of employment. Also, any attempt to inform immigration before this day will fall on deaf ears.
In preparation for this document there may be a 'sit down' with the boss. Employees will be asked to fill out a form stating their reasons for wanting to leave and the date. It all sounds a bit ominous but is nothing more than a formality. The atmosphere of the 'sit down', though, can't be legislated for.
The company should also provide you with a tax report/record. This may take longer for them to provide.
In all this talk of work conditions and contracts it’s worth noting that for a country drowning in bureaucracy, Japan has a surprising lack of interested in contracts. Conditions of employment are often based on trust (this writer knows full-time professionals who've reached their 40s without ever having signed a contract). Foreigners will need them though, if only for visa/immigration purposes.
Have you quit your job recently? Let us know your experiences below.
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