Office desk
Clinging on doesn't always reap rewards as one French white-collar worker found out to his cost. Image Credit: iStockphoto

An executive who was paid about $18,000 a month by LafargeHolcim Ltd. to do nothing failed in his suit to force the cement maker to fire him with a payout worth more than $2 million.

Timing was his undoing.

When his employer Lafarge SA announced in 2015 a staff-buyout programme as part of its merger with Holcim Ltd., Antoine Zenone hoped he could get a golden handshake. But the company told him he wasn't eligible and French judges have said "non" - three times in a row.

The Paris appeals court ruled that Zenone couldn't benefit from the plan because he'd already agreed to an expatriate position in Singapore. That suspended his French employment contract and excluded him from buyout offers made to Lafarge's domestic staff.

Zenone was seeking about 2.1 million euros ($2.3 million) and until recently had been paid 16,195 euros gross a month by Lafarge without having to provide any work, according to last week's ruling.

The world's two largest cement makers combined in 2015 to cut costs and boost value as demand for building materials eroded. But LafargeHolcim shares slid in subsequent years on a loss of investor confidence and a scandal over operations in war-torn Syria.

Not willing to go lower down

When Zenone came back from his posting as chief executive officer of Lafarge's branch in Singapore two years ago, Lafarge offered him a project manager position but he didn't take the role. He states on his LinkedIn profile that he started a new job at a plastic pipe maker last month.

As part of the tie-up, Lafarge told staff representatives in May 2015 that about 380 jobs would be cut throughout the world, in part through a voluntary programme.

Just two days earlier, he had written an email cited in the court case that he agreed to take the Singapore position. "I look forward to starting," he said.

French contract

Had he replied two days later, Zenone might have been considered for a buyout. Zenone later complained that he was misled into taking the Singapore expat job and asked to get back on a French contract.

He told Lafarge in mid-2016 that he had only agreed to the posting because he believed it meant eventually becoming country CEO for both cement makers' operations in the southeast Asian state.

That argument, which didn't move LafargeHolcim, also failed to convince the Paris appeals court. "He can't claim that his job was made impossible given that he continued to occupy his post for almost three years," the judges ruled.

The court added that there was no evidence that Lafarge was responsible for the failure to complete the merger of the two companies' operations in Singapore.