A spate of suicides at a leading French company will see a number of top executives stand trial over alleged workplace bullying.
The former head of France Telecom Didier Lombard, six other executives and telecoms operator Orange, formerly France Telecom, are to be taken to court over their alleged role in a wave of staff suicides.
They are accused of engaging in or assisting psychological harassment, according to the court order.
An April 2010 report from labour inspectors found that 19 employees took their own lives, 12 attempted suicide and eight suffered from deep depression or were forced to stop work as a result.
Unions said that more than 35 had ended their own lives, according to French newspaper Le Monde.
France Telecom, which has since become Orange, was hit by the wave of employee suicides beginning in 2008.
Among the cases was a man who killed himself during a staff meeting.
The suicides continued in 2010, with five workers dying in one 10-day period.
Image: A number of employees took their own lives
Mr Lombard, who denied any wrongdoing during an investigation of the suicides, stepped down as CEO of Orange in early 2010 amid criticism of his handling of the crisis.
The former chief, an ex-human resources head and a deputy CEO have been placed under court supervision until trial.
“As it has always said, Orange rejects the accusations and will make its case during the public hearing which will be scheduled in the coming months,” an Orange spokesman said.
Jean Veil, Lombard’s lawyer, said the move was “absurd”.
The labour report alleged the company used harsh restructuring methods such as forcing people into new jobs and giving unattainable performance objectives.
The restructuring plan allegedly aimed to reduce France Telecom’s headcount by 22,000 while shifting 10,000 people into new jobs and recruiting 6,000 new employees.
“This must serve as an example so that management never again uses social violence to get people to leave,” said the head of the CFE-CGC union at Orange, Sebastien Crozier.
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The crime of “moral harassment” can be punished with two years in prison and 30,000 euros ($35,000) in fines.
:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123, or email [email protected] in the UK.