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Bruxelles Propreté held responsible for suicide of one of its workers

10:12 16/03/2023

Bruxelles Propreté, the regional cleanliness agency, has been found responsible by a Brussels court for the suicide of one of its workers.

The employee is said to have been harassed by a supervisor who had been transferred there after from another company where it was said he was suspected of making racist remarks.

Referred to as D.F., the employee had been working for Bruxelles-Propreté since 1992 and died by suicide in 2016 after several years of ongoing harassment from his superior, referred to as M.L.

Bruxelles Propreté was handed a suspended fine of €36,000 after being found guilty of manslaughter.

“This is one of the first times an employer has been convicted of manslaughter, for someone who committed suicide outside the workplace, both because of a deterioration in working conditions and because the employer did not take steps to respond to the worker's calls for help.” Antoine Chomé, lawyer for the victim's family, told RTL.

The agency was also found guilty of negligence for not having acted in the knowledge that its employee was exposed to a serious danger, and for failing to take measures to stop the harassment that this employee and other workers were suffering at the hands of the same supervisor.

The court used strong language in condemning Bruxelles Propreté, establishing that this supervisor was even encouraged in his violent and harassing behaviour "by the complacency of his own hierarchy".

The judge noted that the management of Bruxelles Propreté "neglected the wellbeing at work of its employees" and that "nothing was done to listen to them and help them in a concrete way".

Regarding the death of D. F., the court considered that, while suicide is "an eminently personal act", the man's suicide "directly follows a summons [from his employer] to come and explain himself" and that his farewell letter mentions contacting his lawyer, who represented him in the harassment case, if anything happens to him.

The case could set a legal precedent when it comes to workplace harassment, and lack of intervention from management to stop it.

“This is a warning sign that a situation of violence or harassment in the workplace implies a reaction on the part of the employer,” said Chomé.

“If he fails to do so, he could be convicted of manslaughter, unintentional assault and battery or failure to assist a person in danger.”

Written by Helen Lyons