Secretary tests French law after blog sacking
PARIS, July 18, 2006 (AFP) - A 33-year-old British secretary has launched a test case before a French employment tribunal after bring sacked from her company for writing a personal Internet blog about her day-to-day life in Paris.
The blog – written under the pseudonym ‘La Petite Anglaise’ – has built up a sizeable international following over the last two years, with up to 3,000 people a day reading diary-style accounts about work, relationships and the travails of single-motherhood.
But in April Catherine – she refuses to give her family name – was called in by superiors at the Paris office of British accounting firm Dixon Wilson and told she was being dismissed for gross misconduct.
After working out her notice, Catherine on Tuesday posted news of her dismissal and impending legal case for the first time on her blog – www.petiteanglaise.com – prompting a flood of sympathetic comments from readers.
“In the dismissal letter they told me I had brought the company into disrepute, but I never once referred to it or the people there by name,” Catherine told AFP.
Managers had also discovered from reading the blog that on two occasions she had lied about having nanny problems to take the afternoon off, Catherine said. And they objected to her using the computer in office hours to write the blog.
“I can understand why they might have felt a little aggrieved, but I cannot accept that it is a sackable offence. It was a gross over-reaction. Only a few days before I’d been told how good my work was,” she said.
The case – one of the first of its kind in France – will be brought before the ‘prud’hommes’ or labour tribunals later this year, and Catherine’s lawyer is pressing for an award of two years’ salary.
Dixon Wilson, which offers tax and financial advice to private clients in Britain and France, was unable to comment.
In her blog, ‘La Petite Anglaise’ mainly writes of her home life bringing up a three-year-old daughter in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, but there are occasional light-hearted references to her workplace.
In one message she describes her boss as “very old school. He wears braces and sock suspenders (although I don’t have any firsthand experience of those), stays in gentlemens clubs when in London, and calls secretaries ‘typists.’
“When I speak to him, I can’t prevent myself from mirroring his plummy Oxbridge accent.”
Elsewhere she writes about accidentally showing her cleavage while setting up a video-conference in London, and of a Christmas party where a staff-member broke “the unwritten rule” by pulling his cracker before the senior partner and his wife pulled theirs.
“They were just humorous anecdotes, and in any case I exaggerated to make them funnier,” said Catherine.
“I have no idea if we will win the case, because there’s very little legal precedent here in France. But we need to set out where the boundaries are between private and professional activities in the workplace,” she said.
Among the messages of support posted on blog Tuesday: “How completely ridiculous these corporate machines are! What on earth has happened to your bosses’ sense of humour and fun? Sigh. Good luck fighting them!”
La Petite Anglaise also wrote a version of her blog for Expatica.
Subject: French News