As sackable offences go, you’d think that managing to lose €5bn of your employer’s money would probably be right up there with passing on tips to the competition and making lewd comments to the boss at your Christmas party. But Jerome Kerviel, the rogue trader who almost brought down French bank SocGen, clearly has other ideas – according to reports today, he plans to sue his erstwhile employer for unfair dismissal. How’s that for chutzpah?
Kerviel’s accusation is that when SocGen sacked him (while he was in prison awaiting possible criminal charges, remember), the bank was just making him a scapegoat for its own numerous failings, whereas in fact its enormous losses weren’t actually his fault at all. OK, so he went beyond his trading limits by the odd €50bn or so, but he claims he was actually in the black when he got the boot – SocGen only lost money because they tried to unwind his huge bets in a falling market.
What’s more, his lawyers also seem to think they’ve found a killer loophole. As those of you who have ever been through a dismissal process (either as a sacker or sackee) will know, there are all sorts of hoops that a company has to jump through in the UK before they can actually get rid of someone. But if you think that's bad, French employment laws make ours look like Hobbes' state of nature. It's famously almost impossible to sack people in France (second only to Germany, probably) - even if, as in this case, they've half-inched a load of your money.
One of these myriad labour laws apparently dictates that you have to hold a face-to-face meeting with your employee before you give them the bullet – and in Kerviel’s case, that meeting never took place. Admittedly, this was largely because he was in jail and his bail conditions banned him from seeing anyone from SocGen. But his lawyers actually seem to think this will count in their favour…
The irony of all this, of course, is that if his claim succeeds he’ll be entitled to a likely six-figure compensation sum from SocGen for unfair dismissal and loss of earnings. It would also probably be a first for industrial tribunals: an employee being compensated for losing billions of euros of his employer’s money. Just goes to show: those HR processes might seem tiresome, but they’re worth their weight in gold.
One bit of bad news for Jerome fans from the Times’ version of today’s events: the paper ‘understands’ that Kerviel does not envisage a return to his old job. Although since SocGen chairman Daniel Bouton previously called him a ‘cheat, a fraud and a terrorist’, you may well have worked that out for yourselves.