by Ellen Pinkos Cobb
After a seven-year inquiry into a wave of suicides at France Telecom, the Paris public prosecutor has recommended that its former chief executive and other key figures be put on trial for workplace bullying. If the trial proceeds, it would be the first trial in France for bullying (known in France as moral harassment or psychological harassment) of such a large company.
At France Telecom, a multinational telecommunications corporation which became Orange in 2013, at least 19 people are known to have taken their lives in 2008 and 2009 as the company cut thousands of jobs. Unions put the number of suicides at 35. The prosecutor’s investigation found that in order to encourage employees to leave, managers had been trained to demoralize their teams and their bonuses were dependent on this; work inspectors underlined the "brutality" of such management methods, which had an adverse effect on employees' physical and mental wellbeing; and management failed to take into account the "alarms and warnings" over the impact of its actions and the "psychological risks" to staff. When asked to explain the rash of suicides, CEO Didier Lombard described it as a "fashion", sparking widespread outrage.
It is now up to an examining judge to decide whether or not to order a trial. 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).
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