Psychological harassment at work

Verified 01 January 2023 - Directorate of Legal and Administrative Information (Prime Minister), Ministry of Justice

Bullying is an offense. It leads to deteriorating working conditions. He is being punished in both the private and public sectors. The law provides for the protection of employees, public officials and trainees.

Private sector

In the private sector, you have several types of recourse to defend yourself against psychological harassment. Your employer has an obligation to take preventive action against such behavior.

Psychological harassment takes the form of repeated acts which may lead to a deterioration in the working conditions of the person suffering them, which may lead to

  • an infringement of his rights and dignity,
  • or impairment of physical or mental health,
  • or a threat to his professional development.

If you are a victim of psychological harassment, you can benefit from the protection of the law, whether you are an employee, a trainee or an apprentice.

These acts are prohibited, even if there is no hierarchical link between you and the perpetrator.

Example :

  • Regular and repeated insults
  • Spam phone calls or messages
  • Misplaced reflections on a gender
  • Threats of dismissal
  • Mission Withdrawal

Your employer has an obligation to take all necessary measures to prevent bullying.

It must inform its employees of the provisions of the Penal Code prohibiting psychological harassment, and cooperate with the employees' representatives and, if there are any, the Social and Economic Committee (ESC).

The occupational medicine may also participate in the prevention of psychological harassment in the company.

Persons who denounce or combat psychological harassment may not be punished for that reason. Penalties are only allowed if the whistleblower is acting in bad faith and makes the disclosure for the sole purpose of causing harm, for example on the basis of facts the inaccuracy of which he is well aware.

To defend yourself, you have the right to use one of the following procedures or several of them at the same time.

Alert the EESC and staff representatives

In case of psychological harassment, you can inform the staff representatives who can help you in all your steps.

You can also notify the Economic and Social Committee (ESC), if it exists, which has a right of alert to warn the employer of any case of psychological harassment.

Alert labor inspectorate

In case of harassment, you can report it to the labor inspectorate.

The screening officer will check to see if the reported facts constitute harassment.

If that appears to be the case, the officer may be called upon to conduct an investigation.

After investigation, if the labor inspector finds an offense, he informs the public prosecutor.

Mediation

You can also initiate a mediation procedure with the perpetrator. The choice of mediator must be agreed between the two parties.

Several professionals offer this type of service. You can check with your employer.

The role of the mediator is to try to reconcile the parties. He submits written proposals to them to put an end to the harassment: a change of position for the perpetrator, for example.

If conciliation fails, the Ombudsman must inform you how to assert your rights in court.

Refer the matter to the Labor Council

You can enter the prud'homme council to obtain compensation for the damage suffered. You must present direct or indirect evidence of this harassment: emails, testimonies...

You have five years after the last incident of harassment to refer the matter to the labor board.

The proceedings will take place against your employer, even if it is not the direct perpetrator of the harassment. In the latter case, your employer will be tried for failing to protect you from harassment. He can also be prosecuted for unfair dismissal (if you have reported harassment).

Bring the matter before the criminal court

You can also prosecute the direct harasser.

This complaint may be in addition to a labor complaint against your employer. For example, you prosecute your employer at the labor courts, and the person responsible for the harassment (colleague, supervisor, union representative, client, supplier ...) in criminal proceedings.

The victim of psychological harassment may complain within 6 years from the most recent incident of harassment (last comments made, last mail...). Justice will then take into account all the acts of harassment from the same perpetrator. This is despite the fact that the harassment has been going on for several years.

Please note

any representative trade union may, with your written consent, take legal action on your behalf. The union acts on your behalf and for you.

Refer to the Defender of Rights

If you feel that the motive for bullying is discrimination based on one of the criteria prohibited by the law, such as skin color, sex, age or sexual orientation, you can also refer the matter to the Ombudsman.

You should contact the local representative of the Defender of Rights closest to you.

There are two types of sanctions: those imposed by the employer and those imposed by the courts.

Penalties imposed by the employer

Any employee who has committed psychological harassment shall be liable to disciplinary sanctions by the employer: transfer, dismissal or termination.

Judicial sanctions

Bullying is an offense punishable by a fine of up to 

  • 2 years in prison
  • and €30,000 of fine.

In addition, the perpetrator of psychological harassment may be ordered to pay you damages (non-material damage, medical expenses...)

Public sector

In the public sector, you have several types of recourse to defend yourself against psychological harassment. Your administration has an obligation to put in place a policy to prevent such behavior.

Psychological harassment takes the form of repeated acts which may lead to a deterioration in the working conditions of the person suffering them, which may lead to:

  • an assault on his rights and dignity
  • or impairment of physical or mental health
  • or a threat to his professional development.

If you are a victim of psychological harassment in the public sector, you can benefit from the protection of the law, whether you are a public servant, a contract worker or a trainee.

Such acts are prohibited, even in the absence of a hierarchical link with the perpetrator.

Example :

  • Regular and repeated insults
  • Spam phone calls or messages
  • Misplaced reflections on a gender
  • Threats of dismissal
  • Mission Withdrawal

Your administration has an obligation to take all necessary measures to prevent bullying.

It must inform its officials of the provisions of the penal code punishing psychological harassment. It has to work with the social committee.

Persons who denounce or combat psychological harassment may not be punished for that reason. Penalties are only allowed if the whistleblower is acting in bad faith and makes the disclosure for the sole purpose of causing harm, for example on the basis of facts the inaccuracy of which he is well aware.

To defend yourself, you have the right to use one of the following procedures or several of them at the same time.

Make a report

You can use the public service reporting system for violence, discrimination, psychological or sexual harassment and gender-based behavior. It provides for appropriate procedures for the collection of reports and for the guidance of the officer who claims to be a victim or witness.

The head of department must inform the staff member under his authority of the existence of the alert system, how it is used and the procedures it lays down.

The system must ensure the strict confidentiality of the information transmitted by the victim or witness during the processing of the alert.

Alert the Social Committee and the staff representatives

You can also warn 

  • the staff representatives (they will be able to help you with all your procedures)
  • or the social committee. The Social Committee has a right of alert which enables it to warn the administration of any case of psychological harassment.

Mediation

You can also initiate a mediation procedure with the perpetrator. The choice of mediator must be agreed between the two parties.

Several professionals offer this type of service. You can check with your employer.

The role of the mediator is to try to reconcile the parties. He submits written proposals to them to put an end to the harassment: a change of position for the perpetrator, for example.

If conciliation fails, the Ombudsman must inform you how to assert your rights in court.

To bring an action before the Administrative Court

You may continue your administration before the administrative tribunal and seek redress for your loss. You must present direct or indirect evidence of this harassment: emails, testimonies...

To do this, you must first contact your administration to ask it to act (sanctions against a superior...). Your administration may then be judged, if necessary, for failing to protect you from harassment.

If your administration refuses to act or does not respond to you, you can go to the administrative tribunal. You can also continue your administration if you have been punished for reporting harassment.

You have to go to court within a certain period of time, which varies depending on the situation:

  • If the administration has made an explicit decision, you have 2 months after the notification of the decision concerned (refusal of a penalty from a superior, penalty for denunciation, etc.) to bring the matter before the court.
  • If the administration has not replied to you within 2 months, you must bring the matter before the administrative court within 4 months of receiving your request by your administration.

Bring the matter before the criminal court

You can also prosecute the direct harasser.

This complaint may be in addition to a complaint against your administration. For example, you can prosecute your administration before the administrative court and the perpetrator in criminal proceedings.

The victim may complain within 6 years from the most recent incident of harassment (last comments made, last mail...). Justice will then take into account all the acts of harassment from the same perpetrator. This is despite the fact that the harassment has been going on for several years.

As a victim, you can benefit from the functional protection.

Please note

any representative trade union may, with your written consent, take legal action on your behalf. The union will act on your behalf and for you.

Refer to the Defender of Rights

If you feel that the motive for bullying is discrimination based on one of the criteria prohibited by the law, such as skin color, sex, age or sexual orientation, you can also refer the matter to the Ombudsman.

You should contact the local representative of the Defender of Rights closest to you.

Two types of sanctions can be combined: those taken by the administration and those taken by the judiciary.

Sanctions taken by the administration

Public official found guilty of harassment risks disciplinary sanctions : automatic removal, removal from the progress table, or even revocation...

Judicial sanctions

Psychological harassment is an offense punishable by up to 

  • 2 years in prison
  • and €30,000 of fine.

In addition, the perpetrator of psychological harassment may be ordered to pay you damages (non-material damage, medical expenses...)