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Salary disputes and compensation for occupation related injuries are the most common complaints heard about in labour tribunals, but how about an employee claiming damages for being bored at work?
An employment tribunal in Paris was tasked with such an unusual case: Frédéric Desnard, a former employee at Inter Parfums, a perfume and cosmetics company, is demanding compensation for allegedly having a boring job.
The 44-year-old former facility manager, who was laid off in September 2014, has accused the company of taking away his responsibilities on purpose – leaving him with nothing to do, he said to French Magazine Le Point.
Desnard said he was mis au placard, which literally translates to an employee being given menial tasks, as reported in The Guardian. He alleged the company wanted to bore him “to death” in order to convince him to quit voluntarily and therefore limit severance payments.
Desnard claimed that this loss of purpose made him ill, leading to an epileptic seizure while driving in 2014 and several prolonged periods of sick leave which led to his dismissal from his US$90,000 (HK$700,000) a year job.
“I was ashamed to be paid to do nothing,” he said.
He is seeking €9,305 (HK$82,329) for notice-period and holiday pay, and €350,000 (HK$3,09,6763) in damages for “moral harassment” and termination of employment.
Desnard’s lawyer Montasser Charni said that instead of being burnt out like a lot of employees did, Desnard was bored out of his job.
He said Desnard joined the company in December 2006 and he was a model employee who showed “total devotion” to his job.
But his workload began to evaporate in 2009 and things got worse in 2012 when Inter Parfums lost a major licencing contract and began laying off staff. With reportedly not much to do, Desnard spent his time running errands for the president of the company, Charni said.
The lawyer for Inter Parfums, Jean-Philippe Benissan, denies the claims, saying, “During these four years, he never told us he was bored.”
The lawyer added that Desnard had never previously complained to the labour relations tribunal of being overworked in his Inter Parfums job. “If he had nothing to do for four years, why did the company keep him on,” Benissan asked.
A verdict is expected on July 27.
This is not the first lawsuit that Desnard had been involved with Inter Parfums.
In December 2015, a court ordered Desnard to pay his former employer €1,000 ($8,843) for defamation. The court judged he was “inspired by a sense of personal animosity” against his former employer who he had become convinced, without any real proof, had “ruined his health”.
French labour laws are notoriously protective of employees and have led to quirky labour disputes like this.
Last year, Frenchman Charles Simon sued the national railway operator SNCF for ‘ruining his career’ because they put him on £3,800-a-month paid leave for 12 years.
He said he was told he would be relocated elsewhere in the company, but then his bosses simply “forgot” about him. His case was finally settled out of court.
While such lawsuits are highly unlikely to take place in Hong Kong, paying employees to do nothing is something that should not be taken lightly.
French researcher Christian Bourion and author of The Bore-Out Syndrome told radio station France Info that as many as 30% of workers may be suffering in silence over being paid to do nothing.