Extension of inter-professional agreement on harassment and violence at work

The National Interprofessional Agreement (ANI), designed to educate workers and employers about harassment and violence at work, was signed by all French trade unions on 26 March 2010, transposing the European Framework Agreement of 15 December 2006 on this topic, reached by the European social partners. However, an order issued by the French government on 23 July further widens the scope of the ANI to cover employees and employers in all sectors.

Background

The government order (in French) issued on 23 July extends the national interprofessional agreement (ANI) on harassment and violence at work (in French, 161Kb PDF) signed by the French trade unions in March. The agreement transposes the European framework agreement on harassment and violence at work (4.78Mb PDF). The objective of the new agreement is to educate employers, workers and their representatives on the problems of harassment and violence at work by defining these issues and proposing measures with which to identify, prevent and manage them. The agreement also includes measures to support affected employees.

Definitions

According to the ANI, harassment occurs when one or more employees are subjected to abuse, threats and/or humiliation which is repeated and deliberate, either at work or in work-related situations. The agreement also defines violence at work as occurring when one or more employees are assaulted in work-related circumstances.

The work environment can affect an employee’s exposure to harassment and violence. However, throughout the negotiations unions and employers disagreed over whether an explicit link could be made between work organisation, management methods, and the occurrence of harassment and violence in the workplace. The employers did not want this included, but the final text of the agreement stipulates that the working environment may affect workers by subjecting them to these phenomena. On 10 November 2009, the French Supreme Court ruled that harassment can be brought about by the practices implemented by a supervisor (Cass. soc., 10 November 2009, n°07-45321 (in French); see also Cass. soc., 17 February 2010, n° 08-44.298 (in French)). The ruling explicitly recognised, for the first time, that

management practices implemented by a supervisor ... can be characterised as bullying ... when they occur as repeated acts towards an employee, with the purpose or effect of causing a deterioration of working conditions and [which] might adversely affect his or her rights and dignity, physical or mental health or jeopardise the professional future of the employee.

Furthermore, inappropriate behaviour can contribute to the deterioration of working conditions, especially for employees who are in daily contact with the public, and this can worsen relationships in the workplace. Companies which allow such behaviour to take root in the workplace risk the occurrence of more serious acts of violence and harassment.

Harassment and workplace violence can be exercised by one or more employees, or by third parties, with the intention or the effect of violating the dignity of employees, affecting their health and safety and/or creating a hostile work environment. The phenomenon of stress, when it arises from factors related to the organisation of work, working environment or poor communications within the company, can lead to situations of harassment and workplace violence which are potentially more difficult to identify.

In addition to this, employees may experience harassment and violence either because of their origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability or because they regularly deal with the public. Those people exposed to discrimination may also be more likely to suffer harassment or violence at work.

Framework for identification, prevention and management

According to the new agreement, employers must demonstrate vigilance towards signs of harassment and violence such as repeated personal conflicts, frequent complaints from employees, or violent acts against staff or others. Increased awareness and adequate training of an organisation’s line managers and employees will reduce the potential occurrence of harassment and workplace violence. The new agreement states that an employer, in consultation with employees and/or their representatives, shall take the necessary measures to prevent such abuses. It also calls for an audit of these measures by employers, awareness-raising and training for both line managers and employees on these issues, and suggests the establishment of an internal alert procedure. An organisation can also formulate procedures to identify, understand and treat harassment and violence. Measures aimed at improving the internal processes, working conditions and work environment within an organisation all play a role in the prevention of harassment and violence. The agreement also makes a provision for the establishment of a mediation procedure which any employee can trigger if they believe they have been a victim, or implicated as a perpetrator, of violence and harassment.

Sanctions against perpetrators and support measures for employees

If it is determined that harassment or violence has taken place, appropriate measures must be taken against the perpetrator(s), the penalties for which will be set out in the company’s own policy.

The agreement provides protection for the employees if they believe they have been subjected to harassment or violence for rejecting, or complaining about, decisions affecting their remuneration, training, job reclassification, work assignment, qualifications, job evaluation, professional promotion, job relocation or the renewal of their contract. In these instances the employee may not be disciplined, dismissed or subjected to any form of direct or indirect discrimination.

Where there is evidence of harassment or violence affecting employees’ health, an employer is obliged to implement specific protection measures, including medical and psychological support, and there should be the assumption that the employee will keep their job or return to work.

Hélène Tissandier, HERA

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