Three former senior bosses of French telecoms giant Orange have been found guilty of “moral harassment” after a spate of suicides at the company when it was restructured.
The methods used during the huge reorganisation in the late 2000s put some workers under so much pressure that they took their own lives, the prosecutor said.
The trial looked at 39 cases between 2006 and 2009; 19 suicides, 12 suicide attempts and eight cases of serious depression.
Other suicides could not be linked directly and solely with the victims’ jobs.
The Paris court heard from families of the victims and saw letters and photos, including one note that read: “I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom, it’s the only cause.”
The company acknowledged people suffered as a result of management errors but denied there was a deliberate policy of harassment.
Former chief executive Didier Lombard, 77, was sentenced to a year in jail and a €15,000 (£12,778) fine.
However, under French law, he will not spend any time behind bars because his sentence is short and he is not seen as a danger to society.
Human resources director Olivier Barberot and Lombard’s former right-hand man, Louis-Pierre Wenes, were also convicted for leading a “policy of destabilisation”. Four other managers were convicted of complicity.
The company was ordered to pay around €3.5m (£3m) in fines and compensation.
It happened as the company – then operating as France Telecom – shed 22,000 jobs and redeployed another 10,000 as it adapted to competition in the private sector.
Lombard, 77, who left his post in 2010, 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 pattern of suicide in the business”.
The executives said the restructuring plan was an economic necessity.
A report in 2010 by labour inspectors said management used “pathogenic” restructuring methods, such as forcing people into new jobs in cities far away from their homes and setting them unattainable performance objectives.
On the last day of the trial, in July, Lombard said he was “deeply sorry”.
Orange is France’s first big company to be tried on the charge of institutional moral harassment and the case could set a legal precedent.
:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.