A former BNP Paribas SA regional director is suing the lender, claiming she was left with no other choice than quitting after it vetoed her request to work remotely from the French Riviera where her husband had got a new job.
Sandrine Sustar, who was based in the northern city of Lille and specialized in real-estate financing for wealthy clients, argues that working from home posed no problems during COVID-19 lockdowns and so there was no reason to prevent her from continuing it from the south of France so that she, her husband and their two children could all live together.
“She was offering to come back to the office once a week at her own costs,” Sustar’s lawyer, Eva Nabet, said at a Paris employment tribunal hearing last week. “But the company refused.”
Sustar says that forced her to resign and is seeking about 100,000 euros ($107,000) under a legal procedure that allows employees to collect unfair-dismissal payouts if they can show their employer’s behavior was so egregious they simply couldn’t stay.
The case highlights the growing tensions between banks keen to see more staff back at the office and employees who’ve tasted the freedom of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Employee resistance has forced some bank bosses to soften their expectations and Credit Suisse Group AG Chief Executive Officer Thomas Gottstein said this week at Davos that he doesn’t think banks will ever return to working full-time from the office. JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief Jamie Dimon, one of the most vocal critics of remote work, conceded earlier this year that it “will become more permanent in American business.”
Sarah Haouchine, a lawyer for BNP, said the bank’s personal finance unit was keen to keep Sustar on board but didn’t want to grant any special favor.
“There’s no such thing as 100 percent working from home at BNP,” Haouchine told the tribunal. “Why would BNP have had to agree to something that didn’t exist?”
Sustar’s decision to quit and move to the French Riviera was a personal choice. “BNP isn’t to blame,” Haouchine said. “BNP was under no obligation to adjust to its employee’s constraints or desires.”
At BNP, the rules changed a year after Sustar’s departure in September 2020 and French staff members are now allowed remote work 2.5 days a week. BNP representatives declined to comment further on the Paris lawsuit.
Among other grievances, Sustar’s attorney complained that BNP didn’t help her client move within the bank prior to the pandemic. Nabet said that Sustar applied for jobs in Nice or Bordeaux but her candidacy was rejected. After leaving BNP, Sustar undertook a career change and began following an interior decor course funded by France’s unemployment office.
A ruling in the case is expected on June 22.