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France : Moral harassment does not necessarily come from above

30/03/2012

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France

France : Moral harassment does not necessarily come from above

International Employment Bulletin contents

 

The Criminal Section of the French Supreme Court has handed down an interesting judgment on who can be a "harasser". 'Moral harassment' covers "any behaviour, words, deeds and actions or writing prejudicial to the personality, dignity or integrity of an individual, whether physical, mental or moral, and jeopardizing his employment or causing deterioration of the working atmosphere[1]".

In this case, an employee had been referring to his manager as a complete idiot and had, on several occasions, showed his contempt towards the manager through various signs of insubordination. Matters deterioriated, to the point where the manager committed suicide.

The employee was dismissed for gross misconduct. However, he claimed that, because the manager was of a higher rank, there was no way that an employee at his level could harass him as he did not have the necessary means to do so.

The Supreme Court rejected the employee's argument and ruled that the harassment did exist as the notion did not necessarily imply a downward relationship.

Harassment has given rise to an unprecedented number of cases over the past few months and this ruling is of major importance. Where moral harassment has taken place, "harassers" will find it increasingly difficult to escape liability. However, establishing the existence of moral harassment probably remains one of the greatest challenges for parties.

Contribution by Laurent Guardelli, Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP (Paris), Employment and Benefits Group


[1] This is an example definition taken from the CERN Administrative Circular 32 on harassment.

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