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November 04, 2021

Can working too much overtime kill you?

You’ve heard it, and I’ve heard it.

How many times has someone shuffled in the door late at night, slumped on the couch and sighed to you, “Ugh, this job is gonna kill me”?

It happens, and you laugh. And they laugh. Only, then something like this happens, and suddenly everyone’s not so amused anymore.

Last week, the 2007 passing of a McDonald’s Japan store manager was ruled a case of “karoshi” – literally, death by overwork.

The woman, 41, died from a brain haemorrhage after reportedly putting in more than 80 hours of overtime in each of the six months before her death.

She collapsed at a training program just outside Tokyo.

“We determined her work caused the illness,” an official at the local Japanese Labour Bureau said.

“She had early symptoms such as headaches some three weeks before she collapsed, and we presume she already had the illness at that point.”

Now, you might be asking yourself how this could happen. I did the same thing.

But apparently, Japan’s labour laws don’t obligate companies to pay overtime to workers in managerial positions.

(This was a source of embarrassment for McDonald’s Japan in 2008 too, when a court forced it to pay $70,000 USD to an employee for several years’ worth of unpaid OT.)

So, the question begs to be asked: is this a problem for Japan, or is this a problem for everyone?

No doubt North American managers are worked to the bone too, but since they are often compensated appropriately, does it change the dynamic to an employee’s health?

Is 80 hours of OT a month different just outside Tokyo than it is, say, just outside Toronto?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...