Author: Ellen Pinkos Cobb
Amid allegations of institutionalized harassment being built into the management system, a long awaited first of its kind workplace bullying trial took place in France this summer. A CEO and senior executives have been accused of harassing employees so relentlessly, that workers ended up committing suicide. This is the first trial in France for workplace bullying that involves a company of this size, currently the tenth largest mobile network operator in the world.
In 2016, following a seven-year inquiry into a wave of suicides at France Telecom (now Orange), the Paris prosecutor recommended that France Telecom's former chief executive and six other former senior executives be put on trial for bullying (known in France as moral harassment or psychological harassment). The accused faced charges linked to bullying and creating a climate that drove between 19 and 35 employees to take their own lives in 2008 and 2009.
The prosecutor found that the executives, needing to restructure and significantly downsize the business, resolved to make life so unbearable that the workers would leave. As the workers were state employees - employees for life - they could not be fired. The prosecutor alleged the following: that in order to encourage employees to leave, managers were trained to demoralize their teams and their bonuses were dependent on this; that work inspectors underlined the brutal management methods, which had an adverse effect on employees' physical and mental wellbeing; and that management failed to take into account alarms and warnings over the impact of its actions and the psychological risks to staff. When asked to explain the rash of suicides, the CEO described it as a "fashion", sparking widespread outrage.
Under French law, anyone who harasses another with repeated actions with the aim or the effect of degrading working conditions is liable to a year in jail and a fine of €15,000 ($16,500). A verdict is expected by year's end.
The Guardian, Former executives at France Télécom go on trial over staff suicides at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/06/former-executives-at-france-telecom-go-on-trial-over-staff-suicides-orange.
Fortune, France Asks a Devastating Question: What Role Did Telecom Executives Play in 35 Employee Suicides? at https://fortune.com/2019/05/08/french-telecom-orange-trial-suicide/.
The Isosceles Group offers Workplace Wellness Assessments and Workplace Bullying Assessments and Checklists. If you would like Isosceles to develop an assessment for a particular jurisdiction, please contact Brittany Palmer for a quote at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 330-2800.