Did restructuring lead to a wave of suicides at France Télécom?

One employee stabbed himself in a meeting, another overdosed at her desk

Didier Lombard, the former CEO of France Télécom SA, is being investigated for his alleged role in a wave of staff suicides. Lombard, who resigned amid criticism in 2010, is accused of harassment relating to tough management practices he advocated, and could spend a year in jail if convicted.

Lombard oversaw the loss of 22,000 jobs at the telecom giant in 2008 and 2009, while unions claim another 10,000 employees were forced into jobs they did not want. In the years since, details of horrific workplace incidents have emerged: one man stabbed himself in the stomach during a meeting, another overdosed at her desk. A father of two, who threw himself off a bridge, blamed a toxic workplace “atmosphere” in a note later found in his car. Although the company’s suicide rate is below the national average, France Telecom has been the subject of intense public scrutiny in France.

Lombard’s lawyer argues he is accused of harassment “against people he never met.” In Le Monde this week, Lombard, who has been released on $125,000 bail, wrote that he “forcefully” rejects the idea that “plans vital to the survival of the company might have been the cause of human tragedies.”

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