Two weeks ago there was this news reporting that for 12 years, a French railway (SNCF) employee was getting paid 5400€ monthly, even though he was sitting at home waiting for his new assignement. He now claimed a 500000€ compensation as his career life was ruined. Apparently, he was put into cupboard after disclosing a fraudful pratice in the company.
Over the years, I have worked with several ex-government turned private companies including SNCF. It seems that some employees in these companies have a special status that make them unlayoffable, or the layoff process is tedious and time consuming. It creates an okward situation when there are no suitable positions for some of them as the skills set required change. Instead of laying them off and let them venture into other career opportunities, these companies have to or choose to keep them, thus putting them into projects without clear job descriptions. Just imagine, you are working with these companies and you are at a meeting where one member just keep disrupting the discussions, or just keep quiet as nobody knows why he or she was there. Some of them tried very hard to catch up, to integrate into the new teams, while some of them just dropped out, feeling discouraged, or even lost their selfworth in the new organisations.
And, from what I heard, civil servants in France are unlayoffable, it is a lifelong employment contract.
As for the private companies, it depends on the sectors. I heard that some sectors layoff easily, for example in the construction. Some private companies prefer to not layoff their employees, even though they arrive late, sleeping during working hours, take long lunch break...and some know how to protect themselves : they become the délégue personnel (Elected employee representatif). If you layoff employees with this status, changes are you will lost if he or she sues you in the Labor Court.
Recently, I heard some people mentioned about "rupture conventionnelle", where employee employer come to agreements so that the employee will leave the company. It is not considered a layoff, nor a resignation, but both parties wanted to be separated. With this, the employee walks away with a severance package (sometimes amounted to several months or years of salaries), and since it was not a resignation, the employee could enjoy unemployment benefits. Employers use this to:
1. Get rid of employees who were under-performend, this could avoid going through the Labor Court
2. Get rid of those with high salaries and close to retirement. A win-win situation for both : employer got rid of the older employees so that they could lower their labor costs, while employee got to enjoy early retirement while being paid the same or almost the same.
3. Get rid of employees who were not motivated. I know of real cases of those who slept during working hours, refused job assignments, they managed to negotiate a severance package before leaving.
Coming from a capitalist country where under-performed employees are fired, it was difficult to accept that the incompetent coworkers or unprofessional behaviors could be tolerated in companies. With the rigid layoff process, it was a challenge for companies to go through reform even though they might be in financial difficulties. It was a vicious cycle : companies do not recruite easily due to the inflexibility in laying off people in case business going down; employees find it difficult to find other jobs thus prefer to stay put in the same job even though it might not please them.
As for this SNCF employee who sat at home for 12 years doing nothing but still received his paycheck every month, surely his career life was ruined. I presume he did try to find other job, but he probably didn't find any that would give him the same salary and benefits. These semi private semi public companies often offer abundant of paid vacations, interesting working hours and attractive retirement schemes. He actually has the courage to disclose his situation to the world, some in his shoes would maintain it until retirement.
What would you do if you were him?