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  • Writer's pictureAustin Aloysius Tay

You have a duty of care towards your employees

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Workplace bullying Judgement

The Case

On 20 December 2019, France Telecom was found guilty of a string of employee suicides. Its former CEO, Didier Lombard, with his deputy, Louis-Pierre Wenes and the human resource director, Olivier Barberot, were each sentenced to one year and fined €15,000. They were found guilty of offences 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 bullying strategy, 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 the families of the victims and projected letters and photos on a giant screen.

_I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom, it's the only cause._

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 “wanted employees to leave by the door or by the window.” He admitted to once saying there was “a fashion for suicide in the business.” 

My Thoughts

As someone who has researched workplace bullying and remains passionate about helping organisations 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 through the proceedings to talk about what their loved ones have gone through.

I hope workplace bullying should not be a topical issue only when deaths or people are affected psychologically that actions are taken. (See ITV’s drama – Stick and Stones on workplace bullying  https://www.itv.com/hub/sticks-and-stones/2a5631)

This case of 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 this case would impact Asia remains to be seen. Countries like Japan and Korea have now taken steps to tackle workplace bullying, which can only be good. Countries like China (has already had a law on cyberbullying) and Singapore (has already had a harassment law), have measures on bullying. However, there is still a lot 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 onboarding new employees and having campaigns to inform employees of the dos and don’ts of workplace bullying.



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