On 20 December 2019, France Telecom was found guilty for a string of employee suicides. Its former CEO, Didier Lombard, together with his deputy, Louis-Pierre Wenes and the human resource director, Olivier Barberot were each sentenced to one year and fined for €15,000. They were found guilty for offences that took place in 2007 and 2008 when cost-cutting plans were put in place. This is the first time managers have been held criminally responsible for implementing a general strategy of bullying even if they have not dealt with the staff involved. The court ruled that those involved and the company were guilty of collective moral harassment. The court states that “the methods used to reach 22,000 job cuts were illegal.”
For two and a half months, the court listened to families of the victims and projected letters and photos on a giant screen.
The trial focuses on 39 cases between 2006 and 2009 with 19 of whom killed themselves, 12 who attempted to, and eight who suffered from severe depression or were signed off sick because of the pressure. Lombard admitted in court that he “made a blunder” in 2006 when he said he “wanted employees to leave by the door or by the window.” He also admitted to once saying there was “a fashion for suicide in the business.”
As someone who has researched in workplace bullying and still remains passionate about helping organisations how to tackle workplace bullying and helping those affected by workplace bullying, this case is significant. However, reading the case, I can only imagine how trying it was for the families. To sit there through the proceedings to talk about what their loved ones have gone through.
I really hope that workplace bullying should not be a topical issue only when deaths or when people are affected psychologically that actions are then taken. (See ITV’s drama – Stick and Stones on workplace bullying https://www.itv.com/hub/sticks-and-stones/2a5631)
This case of the France Telecom should be a wake-up call for organisations everywhere that doing nothing about workplace bullying is not good enough. An organisation has a duty of care to its employees, and when it does not do anything, it is equally complicit in the act.
What does this case mean in Asia?
How would this case impact Asia remains to be seen. Countries like Japan and Korea have now taken steps to tackle workplace bullying, which can only be a good thing. Countries like China (has already had a law on cyberbullying) and Singapore (has already had a harassment law), have measures on bullying. However, there are still lots to be done in Asia.
What organisations in Asia can start doing is to look at their company policies on workplace bullying. This is the first step to workplace bullying prevention. Creating awareness is equally important and this can be done through the on-boarding process of new employees and to have campaigns to inform employees the do and don’ts of workplace bullying.
For more information on how to prevent workplace bullying in the workplace, kindly email to firstname.lastname@example.org .