Business Essentials for Professionals


Paris Court Hold French Telecom Company Orange Guilty For Workers' Suicides

Paris Court Hold French Telecom Company Orange Guilty For Workers' Suicides
In a landmark ruling, a Paris court held the French telecoms group Orange and its former CEO Didier Lombard guilty of “moral harassment” resulting in a number of suicides in the company during a period in the late 2000s when the company was undergoing a restructuring.
According to analysts and experts, this ruling could be replicated and referred to in other similar collective procedures.
A sentence of a year in jail, of which eight months will be suspended, was delivered by the court against Lombard in addition to a fine of 15,000 euros or $16,700. However under the French laws, Lombard will not have to go behind bars because the jail term under two years and because as Lombard is not considered to be a threat to the society.
There was severe criticisms and deep soul-searching over corporate culture in France after the spate of traumatic suicides of workers at the company in the late 2000s.
Orange was fined 75,000 euros or $83,200 as the court also held the company guilty of the same charge.
“In financial terms, the sentence is light, but this is the first time a French company gets a criminal conviction for moral harassment and that is very bad in terms of reputation,” a lawyer specializing in white-collar crime in France told the media. This ruling also sets a precedent in cases of corporate responsibility in moral harassment and employee burn-out and therefore will be a cause of concern for other companies, the lawyer added.
While many managers have been often fired because they have been convicted of harassment at the individual level, this is the first time a company has been judged to be guilty of harassment.
The verdict would not be appealed by it, said Orange, which reported core earnings of 3.3 billion euros or $3.66 billion in 2018.
While earlier acknowledging that the company might have overlooked management faults in implementing the restructuring plan and recognized the suffering cause to some employees because of that, it has denied the existence of any systemic plan or intention to harass employees.
A wave of suicides was prompted by the some of the methods employed in a deep restructuring of the company in late 2000s, the prosecutors had argued in the case.
While claiming that the restructuring plan was an economic necessity, any wrongdoing was denied by Lombard, and three other former Orange executives who were also accused of “moral harassment” of employees.
The restructuring process in the company referred to in the case and which forms the basis of the case was related to the decision of the company to retrench 22,000 jobs and redeployment of 10,000 more people within the company as the company tried to adapt to the shift form being a state monopoly into the private sector.
In the orange case, management sought ways to encourage workers to quit or accept reassignment, alleged trade unions, which was contrary to the tradition in France for employment in state contracts where employees expect jobs for life. Employees in the country in both private and public sectors enjoy strong labor law protection.

Christopher J. Mitchell

Markets | Companies | M&A | Innovation | People | Management | Lifestyle | World | Misc