He just ducked out early for a bento box

By Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2018
Photo by Trevor Williams via Getty Images

For people with day jobs, lunch is probably the most frustrating meal of the day. You have financial considerations, social consideration, and most importantly, time considerations: Do I actually have time to take a break or am I stuck eating at my desk? As a result, most of us can probably sympathize with a Japanese worker who decided he wanted a “change of pace”—which meant ducking out of work for about three minutes to quickly grab a bento box. His employers aren’t the sympathetic type, however, instead deciding to add up all of those unauthorized three-minute breaks and docking the man’s pay.

In Japan, these short three-minute breaks—which occurred multiple times outside of the 64-year-old employee’s scheduled lunch hour—were a huge story. In fact, senior officials at the Kobe City Waterworks Bureau, where the man worked, went on television to make a public apology. “It’s deeply regrettable that this misconduct took place. We’re sorry,” one official said as the group solemnly bowed.

According to the New York Times, the breaks happened over two-dozen times, but even a spokesman for the company seemed to admit the infractions, though regular, we’re what most Americans would see as extremely mild. “[He] left his desk about three minutes or so between 11:30 a.m. and 11:40 a.m., 26 times between September 2017 and March 2018,” Gen Oka, the head of the company’s personnel affairs, reportedly explained in an interview. In the old days, you would have called that a smoke break. But since his lunch run didn’t occur during his allotted noon-to-1 p.m. lunch hour, they were deemed as a waste of company time.

The employee was apparently able to keep his job, however, he was docked half a day’s pay for his transgressions, an amount Oka described as “thousands of yen”—or in American terms, tens of dollars. “He said, ‘I’m sorry’ and “I will never do that again,’” Oka added.

Meanwhile, when the story went public, plenty of people decided to chime in with their thought—namely, that docking some nearly-senior citizen’s pay for taking 180 seconds to grab a bento box (that he probably ate at his desk anyway) was ridiculous. “We received about 50 or 60 such opinions,” Oka said.

So let’s break it down: You have an employee who “wasted” approximately 78 minutes to get lunch, which led to four senior company execs wasting who-even-knows how much time preparing for and making a TV appearance which led to more employees having to sort through dozens of complaint emails that wouldn’t have arrived otherwise. Who’s wasting whose time in all of this, really?