In what could be seen as either a landmark ruling confirming worker’s rights to a more clear separation of work and life, or a warning to those company cultures that take the “play hard” idea too far, this past week the highest court in France has ruled that a man fired by a consulting firm, largely because he failed to go out for drinks with his colleagues was wrongfully dismissed.
The man, referred to only as Mr. T. in court documents, was fired by Paris-based Cubik Partners in 2015 because he refused to take part in team-building activities and weekend social events, which his lawyers argued included “excessive alcoholism” and “promiscuity.”
According to court documents, Mr. T was hired as a senior consultant by Cubik in 2011 and promoted to director in 2014. However, he was dismissed from that position for “professional incompetence” in 2015.
Mr. T claimed that the “fun” culture in the company involved “humiliating and intrusive practices” including crude nicknames and sharing his bed with another employee during work functions. Aside, even in a hip, Paris-based consulting company, the idea of having to bunk down with co-workers seems incredibly crazy.
The company’s lawyers argued that the former employee sometimes had a “brittle and demotivating tone” towards his subordinates and additionally struggled with receiving feedback and considering differing points of view.
But the presiding judge at the French Court of Cassation didn’t see it that way. In its opinion the court stated that “Mr. T could not be blamed for his failure to integrate the values of the company, which saw the necessary participation in seminars and weekend parties frequently generating excessive alcoholism encouraged by company associates who made very large quantities of alcohol available.”
The judge added that the company advocated practices including “promiscuity, bullying, and incitement to various excesses” among its staff at these events. Finally, the judge said the company violated his freedom of expression and opinion by firing Mr. T for refusing to join in with these practices.
The Court ordered Cubik Partners to pay Mr. T. €3,000 in damages and said it would investigate his demand for a further €461,406 at a later date.
While having these kinds of employment matters end up in court may be unusual, it is a good reminder that as the end of the year approaches, and more companies plan to hold holiday gatherings and parties, to keep things professional, and to remember that not all employees consider “partying” with their co-workers either fun, or a good idea at all.