Japanese employee fined for taking 3 minutes out of work to order lunch

Office workers are seen reflected in a window as they walk to a train station in Tokyo. Japan's intense work culture has been criticized for being too harsh on employees.

(CNN)A Japanese city official has been docked half a day's pay for repeatedly leaving his desk for a few minutes, sparking a heated debate on social media over the severity of the punishment.

The 64-year-old man, who has not been identified, is employed by the waterworks bureau in Kobe, according to bureau officials who gave a televised press conference last week to apologize for the employee's actions.
The man had left his desk for three minutes to buy a takeaway bento lunch box before his lunch time started. He did this 26 times over a seven-month period.
As a punishment, he was reprimanded and docked half a day's pay.
    "It is very regrettable that such misconduct took place," a bureau official said. "We deeply apologize for it."
    All four officials at the press conference then stood and bowed deeply.
    Four officials from the Kobe Waterworks Bureau bow in apology at a press conference.
    The event quickly drew ridicule and fierce criticism on social media, with people commenting on the excessive nature of the punishment.
    One Twitter user wrote, "It's tough life nowadays. No tea break, no cigarette break, no chatting."
    Another remarked sarcastically, "You should round up smokers who step out for three minutes."
    The backlash didn't go unnoticed.
    "We have received opinion this time from both directions, such as the reprimand was too much," Gen Oka, the general affairs officer at the waterworks bureau, told CNN. "We must think again what's the appropriate measures to take."
    However, Oka explained that the bureau had taken action because "we were bound to the public servant duty to spend the working hours for our duty."
    A cheap takeout meal in Japan, known as a bento box, cost a Japanese city worker half a day's pay.