Most of the media seem to have missed the lede here.
The post Court Declares Legal Right To Be Boring… And Not Participate In A Bunch Of Sexual Harassment, Which Seems Way More Important appeared first on Above the Law.
The highest court in France has ruled that employees have a legal right to not be fun at work. What a quirky story, right? Feel free to make all the “congratulations to all the tax lawyers” jokes you want!
At least “not being fun” is how the media seem to be covering the case. Headlines surrounding the decision zero in on the “right to not be fun” and the “right to be boring,” which are both technically accurate in describing the court’s ruling to the extent the French court described the employee’s decision to eschew after-work happy hours as a matter of free expression.
But perhaps these headlines gloss over some very important details.
The man, identified in court documents as “Mr T” apparently pities the fools who like to enjoy the office. After joining Cubik Partners, a business consultancy, in 2011, Mr T was fired in 2015 for not joining in the workplace “fun.” Specifically, Mr T didn’t want any part of after work drinks and other team-building activities.
Or, to get a little more specific:
According to the Court of Cassation, the company’s “fun” values included regular obligatory social events that culminated in “excessive alcoholism encouraged by colleagues who made very large quantities of alcohol available,” as well as “practices pushed by colleagues involving promiscuity, bullying and incitement to various excesses.”
It’s not “excessive alcoholism” to attend events where large quantities of alcohol are available. But let’s put a pin in that one and consider that maybe the coverage should spend a little less time on “he didn’t like going to the bar on Friday with co-workers” part and a little more time focused on the, and we quote, “practices pushed by colleagues involving promiscuity, bullying and incitement to various excesses” part of this opinion.
The court – the highest in the French legal system – also outlined various “humiliating and intrusive” practices promoted by Cubik Partners including simulations of sexual acts and the obligation to share a bed with a colleague.
YES… WHAT ABOUT THE SIMULATIONS OF SEXUAL ACTS AND SHARING BEDS PART? This seems so wildly more important than not wanting to join the official happy hour. It’s also not in any way related to “not being fun” or “being boring” — this is straight up harassment culture. The coverage mostly misses the point in framing this as a matter of being boring, but also, why is a court even opening the door to the suggestion that this might be about a right to not be fun?
It’s about the company not having the right to harass people! Has everyone lost their minds?!?
Obviously, a peer pressure culture that bullies employees into drinking is inappropriate, but pushing people to attend events where alcohol is served is not “excessive alcoholism.” And under no circumstances should be looped in with “not wanting to be subjected to sexual harassment.”
In a profession like a business consultancy, being able to navigate an alcohol-fueled social gathering and be “fun” may actually be critical to the job. Sometimes a consultant is going to have to get drinks with a client. The consultant doesn’t need to drink, but they still need to know how to be engaging and entertaining in that setting. If all this case dealt with was “consultants firing an employee who can’t wine and dine clients,” this ruling would be incredibly stupid.
But it’s not, and conflating “being social” with “sexual harassment” like the court and the media have here is deeply problematic.
This came up in Biglaw a few years ago when firms publicly began to phase out summer associate “boozefests” citing the risk of harassment at social events. But then they suggested replacing trips to the bar with watching associates work out as if that doesn’t invite all manner of ogling and harassment. Maybe focus on “stamping out harassment” instead of rearranging the deck chairs by canceling the cocktail party!
Because like Mr T here, most lawyers need to be sociable if they want to build a career in this industry. Glad-handing clients and securing referral networks require being “fun” and, yes, that often means knowing your way around a bar whether the attorney is personally drinking or not.
There is no related requirement that anyone needs to be “good at harassment” to advance a career.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.