As coronavirus fears grip Japan, labor unions are receiving a growing number of reports from people who have faced discrimination at the hands of their bosses and harassment by customers frustrated with merchandise shortages.

A 73-year-old woman working at a manufacturing company in Nara, western Japan, said her boss shouted for her colleague to stop asking the woman to eat a meal together in early April. She also found out that the same boss had told another colleague to stay away from her.

"I can only think of the novel coronavirus as the reason. I am commuting from Osaka," where the number of infections has been growing, she said.

In Osaka Prefecture, more than 1,200 have been infected with the virus, compared to just over 60 in Nara Prefecture.

The woman says it was a hurtful experience as she was forced to stop eating lunch at her workplace.

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation, the country's largest labor organization also known as Rengo, said it had received reports of virus-linked harassment that included a boss spraying sanitizer at a subordinate and a fresh recruit being told to come to the office as usual because young people were at lower risk of becoming serious ill from the virus.

"Not just overreaction but inconsiderate statements and actions do constitute harassment," said a Rengo official who deals with workplace harassment, adding "insecurity and stress are harming human relations and tend to instigate harassing conduct."

A survey by the National Supermarket Association of Japan in March revealed harassment by customers was also on the rise as people take out their frustration on shop workers when products they want such as face masks are sold out.

There was a case in which a customer called a store every time a delivery truck arrived, demanding its workers restock shelves as soon as possible. Others reported customers making complaints based on rumors.

"There are many stores that are short-staffed and are in a vicious cycle of having to deal with complaints and busy shelf stocking and checkout work," said an association official.

There have also been cases of discrimination against medical workers and a persistent view among people that individuals become infected with the virus because of their own fault.

Keiko Fujino of the Japan Institute for Women's Empowerment & Diversity Management, a foundation for the promotion of workers' welfare, said people should report virus-related harassment just like any other form of harassment and seek consultation.

"This may be an issue new to firms, but they need to examine how (harassment) occurred and deal with it appropriately," she said.

Fujino also urged people working at home to be more careful about their choice of words when communicating online.

"People need to be aware that it is hard to communicate their feelings (online) and be respectful of the feelings of people on the other end," she said.

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