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Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2009 Apr;82(5):663-8. doi: 10.1007/s00420-008-0370-9. Epub 2008 Oct 25.

Specificity of the links between workplace harassment and PTSD: primary results using court decisions, a pilot study in France.

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  • 1Laboratoire d'éthique médicale, Université Paris Descartes, 75006, Paris, France.



France is one of the first countries to have passed specific legislation concerning "mental harassment" (In French the term used in the legislation is "harcèlement moral" referring to harassment or bullying leading to mental or psychological distress.) in the workplace. However, the definition of mental harassment at work remains fairly vague. It is, indeed, a complex issue, since no objective and precise consensual definition has been given so far. The objective of this study is to clarify the criteria that French judges consider as characteristic of mental harassment, and to check whether the specific links between mental harassment at work and PTSD pointed to in recent international studies have been taken into account. This study proposes the main lines for debate in countries that have not yet adopted legal clauses on mental harassment at work.


Our study is based on a sample of 22 people who were legally recognised as having been mentally harassed at work; this sample is taken as representative of all court decisions passed on harassment and published as such on the French Ministry of Justice website.


To establish whether they were considering a case of harassment, the judges based their decisions on the nature of the accusations. In all cases (22/22), the charges brought against the defendant had to do with offences against the employee's dignity. Five cases out of 22 dealt with an offence infringing their rights, 10 cases out of 22 related to the employee's future within the company being compromised, while half of the cases (11/22) concerned a deterioration in the person's health. In more than half of the cases, the judges also looked for other factors, such as repetition and duration of the period of harassment. Whenever the judges noted a deterioration in the victim's mental health, they also referred to medical certificates reporting anxio-depressive syndromes or psychological disorders without providing further detail. No PTSD-like symptomatology was mentioned among these cases, although several studies have shown that many victims of mental harassment at work have specific symptoms of PTSD.


This study is the first study to be carried out on mental harassment at work and to refer to court decisions since the law was promulgated in France (2002). It appears that, in order to be recognised as a victim of mental harassment at work, numerous proofs of harassment or bullying need to be produced. It must have been repeated and have led to consequences in several domains. Several attestations and documents are required demonstrating clearly that harassment or bullying did indeed occur. Further to this, although to date judges have not considered PTSD to be an element contributing to the presumption of harassment, connections between bullying or harassment and clinical signs of PTSD have been attested by several studies that confirm that bullied victims can suffer from PTSD-like symptoms, although they do not necessarily match the strict DSM-IV criteria (absence of A1 criterion). It would seem advisable to request psychiatric examination in cases of harassment.

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