France Telecom under investigation for moral harassment

France Telecom under investigation for moral harassment.

France Telecom might be under investigation for moral harassment. The complaint filed is an unusual as the events in question. Why has a company with almost 60,000 civil servants whose employment is guaranteed in a country with extremely protective social legislation had 37 suicides since the beginning of 2008 –including 11 in the first four months of 2010 alone? Plus, how to blame managers paid to transform a former state-run monopoly into a public company operating in a very competitive market?

Puzzling statistics

Suicide is a desperate act that has drawn the World Health Organization’s special attention. WHO statistics show that the annual suicide rate in France is 26.4 for every 100,000 people—one of the highest rates in Europe, but far behind Japan’s. In comparison, the rate is 17.4 in Canada and 17.7 in the U.S. Although this does not make the situation any less tragic, France Telecom, with its 100,000 employees, is in line with the “national average.”

Accounting for the work factor

The reality of workplace suicide needs to be examined. There is unfortunately little data available, although a Bureau of Labor Statistics study conducted between 1992 and 2001 found that an average of 217 Americans a year killed themselves for reasons directly related to work, i.e. a rate of 0.15 per 100,000 employees (estimating the U.S. workforce at about 150 million people). Adapting this ratio to the overall suicide rate in France would give 0.22 suicides a year for a 100,000-employee firm, which is far from France Telecom’s situation, whose ratio is 15 times higher. The situation is no longer just tragic, but also pathological.

The investigation of the complaint will determine whether the company’s managers are responsible for this sad phenomenon. One fact does not play in their favour, however: faced with similar market conditions, UK telecom giant BT Group cut 30,000 jobs over two years without a single suicide.

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