Three former bosses of a privatised French telecoms giant have been jailed following a company restructuring policy which was linked to the suicides of some 19 workers in the 2000s.

Didier Lombard, the ex-CEO of French Telecom, and two former executives, Louis-Pierre Wenès, the deputy CEO, and Olivier Barberot, the former director of human resources, were jailed on 20 December 2019 over the mental health implications of the restructuring.

Didier Lombard was jailed for a year, as were Louis-Pierre Wenès and Olivier Barberot, with eight months suspended.

Four other executives were found guilty of complicity and given four-month suspended sentences and fines. Lombard, Wenès, and Barberot, were each fined €15,000. Their lawyers said they would appeal against their convictions.

The company, now known as Orange, was fined the equivalent of £64,000.

The landmark case is the first time a French court has recognised “institutional harassment”.

The court examined 39 cases of affected employees, 19 of whom had taken their own lives and 12 who had attempted suicide. The others had lived with depression or had been otherwise unable to work.

The escalation of work-related mental health problems happened during a major restructuring of the company that affected thousands of employees.

The court ruled that the methods used to reach 22,000 job cuts were illegal, rejecting arguments from Orange that the cuts were a necessary part of the privatisation process.

The court heard how staff were transferred without warning to places miles from their families, leaving them without workstations or offices for months with “impossible” targets and “aggressive” micro-management, and sanctions for failing to hit targets.

In a statement, Orange said it would not appeal. The company said, “Orange’s social model is enriched each year with new initiatives and new agreements. The Group is continuing its policy of strengthening social ties within the company”.

Last reviewed 13 January 2020