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The criminal offence of moral harassment is not characterized by the mere description of a tense atmosphere

French Supreme Court, 3 September 2019, n° 17-85733

The judgment of the French Supreme Court dated 3 September 2019 gives the opportunity to review the evidence required to legally characterize the offence of moral harassment. In the case at hand, an PA considered that she had been the victim of moral harassment by the president of the employing company.

To support her harassment claim, she indicated that some of her tasks had been withdrawn and she had been isolated from other employees. The Court of Appeal found the president of the employing company not guilty on the grounds that, on the one hand, the head of the company can autonomously decide on the breakdown of tasks between the employees and him/herself as part of his/her managerial power and on the other hand, the description of a tense atmosphere is not sufficient evidence that the employer has given instructions to isolate an employee from her colleagues.

The French Supreme Court upheld this decision by considering that the evidence of the accused’s intent to violate the employee’s rights, dignity or health was not provided. Beyond the description of facts that would suggest moral harassment, a conviction requires that evidence of a criminal intent be provided.