Orange (then France Télécom) and its former CEO, Didier Lombard, are found guilty of “moral harassment” resulting in suicides during a restructuring of the company.
This landmark ruling was made by a tribunal in Paris at the end of last week – the hearing ended in July – and could have repercussions for other French firms that are trying to modernise their businesses.
The court sentenced Lombard to a year in jail, eight months of which are suspended, and a €15,000 fine, but he will spend not time behind bars.
The court found the company guilty of the same charge, and fined it €75,000. This is the first time a company has been convicted.
Orange said it will not appeal against the findings and had acknowledged victims’ suffering and that errors had been made in the way the restructuring plan was carried out.
It denies any systemic approach to or intention of harassing employees in attempts to make them quit their jobs or accept reassignment as a fundamental restructuring of the company, then known as France Télécom, after privatisation gave rise to at 18 suicides and 13 attempts between April 2008 and June 2010.
The company’s aim was to reduce the workforce by 22,000 and redeploy another 10,000. Orange is offering compensation to victims and relatives of those who died, with claims for compensation so far standing at about €2 million.
Orange said in a statement that the company “has undertaken a vast social transformation project and has implemented measures aimed at preventing workplace suffering and psychosocial risks at a level that is unprecedented among large French companies.”
As part of Orange’s five-year strategy outlined in November, the company said it will implement a plan to increase skills and career retraining, investing more than €1.5 billion in a skills-building programme open to all employees around the world.
The company stressed it, “will promote the conditions for sustainable and responsible transformation to ensure coherence at a social and human level for projects undertaken by the Group around the world”.