Wednesday, November 18, 2015 by Greg White
The Tokyo District Court on Monday annulled a decision by the NHK to terminate the contract of a French anchorwoman for temporarily fleeing Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown.(1)
The ruling also creed that Emmanuelle Bodin’s decision to leave the country in wake of the worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster did not constitute professional negligence.(1)
In 2011, a tsunami struck the coast of Japan, which decimated three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site. The incident released a plume of toxic radiation into the air and sparked multiple explosions. More than four years later, the Fukushima Prefecture is still ridden with radiation and many evacuees are still unable to return home.
“Given the circumstances under which the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima No. 1 plant’s nuclear accident took place, it is absolutely impossible to criticize as irresponsible her decision to evacuate abroad to protect her life,” the ruling said.(1)
Although NHK praised employees who decided to stay with the broadcast company during the Fukushima disaster, the court said the organization, “cannot contractually obligate people to show such excessive allegiance” to the company.(1)
Bodin’s attorney said they do not know whether the ruling will have a similar impact on other cases. Their are many non-Japanese foreigners who missed work after they fled the country during the debacle.
“My pursuit of justice has finally been vindicated,” Bodin, 58, told a news conference in Tokyo.“Today, we are reminded once again that it is the responsibility of a company, regardless of how powerful an organization it is, to take good care of its employees and treat them with fairness and compassion,” she said in Japanese.(1)
The court ordered NHK to pay Bodin ¥5.14 million in unpaid salary; a payment she would have received had her contract been renewed during the fiscal year.(1)
Bodin had worked as a news anchor and translator for NHK for more than twenty years. During the Fukushima crisis, she followed orders issued by the French government to evacuate the country. Before departing, however, Bodin asked a French veteran colleague to act as her substitute, so that her leave of absence would not cause major problems for the company.
She also notified her superior in the news radio section that she was temporarily leaving the country but a colleague would be covering her shifts. The manager gave her approval to leave, according to the ruling.
A week later, NHK sent a letter to Bodin, notifying her that her contract would be discontinued without providing a sufficient explanation for her termination. The vague letter merely recapitulated abstract provisions in the contract that specify an employee could be fired if “the circumstances demanded so” or if their work performance was so bad it “has no sign of improvement.”(1)
The trial lasted approximately three years. During that time, NHK’s story was riddled with contradictions and false accusations. The NHK lawyers even went so far to claim Bodin did not call her French colleague to act as a substitute for her. They also said Bodin’s call with her superior lasted a mere 20 to 30 seconds, during which she “unilaterally” said she would not be covering her anchor shift hours later and tersely hung up.(1)
Nevertheless, Bodin’s phone records, which were presented in court by her lawyers, revealed she had spoken with her colleague and superior for two and five minutes, respectively. Consequently, the documents served as nails in the coffin of the case.