How Can French Employees Tackle Workplace Bullying?

France is well-known to have some of the world’s strongest legal protections against all forms of workplace bullying, with notoriously harsh sanctions for both the perpetrator and, potentially, the employer.

Here are the different steps an employee may take in order to address workplace bullying.

1. Inform the relevant bodies

Initially, the employee may choose to inform their immediate manager of the bullying, or the Comité Social et Économique (CSE) if one exists in their workplace. 

The CSE has a recognised right of warning (droit d’alerte) in the event of bullying.  This means they can refer the incident to the employer, who must then launch a formal investigation.

The employee may also report workplace bullying to the labour inspector.  The inspection officer will check the reported facts, and if bullying is determined they can perform a full investigation.  The public prosecutor may be informed if an offence is discovered, which could result in legal action being taken against the perpetrator.

2. Mediation

An employee who feels they are being bullied can also opt to initiate a mediation process with the perpetrator.  The choice of mediator must be agreed between them both.

The role of the mediator is to attempt to reconcile the two parties.  Part of the process involves the mediator submitting written proposals to end the bullying, with an example suggestion being a change of job for the perpetrator.

However, should the mediation process fail, the mediator must then inform the employee of how to assert their rights in court.

3. Employment tribunal

A bullying case can be brought before an employment tribunal, so the employee may receive compensation for the damage suffered (whether physical, mental, or emotional). The employee has five years following the last act of bullying to bring their case, and must present direct or indirect evidence of the bullying, such as emails or witness testimonies. 

If bullying is successfully proven, the employee can request to terminate their contract of employment along with their payment for damages and interest.  Proceedings will then be brought against the employer, even if they are not the direct perpetrator of the bullying. 

The employer can also be sued for unfair dismissal, if the employee was dismissed after reporting the bullying.

4. Criminal action

The bullied employee may also take criminal action against the direct perpetrator of the bullying.  This complaint can be made in addition to an employment court complaint against the employer.

In this instance, the employee can file a complaint within six years of the most recent act of bullying (such as the last message received).  The court will then take all acts of bullying by the same perpetrator into account.

With written agreement from the employee, a representative trade union may take legal action on their behalf, acting in the employee’s name.

An important point to note

If the bullying appears to be motivated by discrimination based on a criterion prohibited by law, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation, the employee may also refer the issue to the Défenseur des droits.  This is an independent institution responsible for defending individual rights and freedoms in certain areas defined by law.

Can we help you navigate workplace bullying in France?

The potential effects of bullying in any workplace can be devastating, both morally and financially.  French employees have a wealth of resources at their disposal, so it is vital that employers are proactive in their efforts to determine and diffuse any incidences of bullying before they escalate.

Our team of experienced, bilingual consultants are happy to listen to any specific concerns and/or answer your questions as part of a free initial consultation.

Please contact us to arrange a convenient date and time.

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