Employment law has been in the news headlines for several months as various reforms on working time, employee representation and fixed-term contracts will soon have a significant impact on employers.

In a nutshell, two bills (the Macron bill and the Rebsamen bill) are in the process of being adopted and recently, the Prime Minister also announced 18 measures to boost employment in small and micro businesses, a French version of the Jobs Act.

Although the laws have not yet been enacted, the principal changes have clearly emerged and below is a summary of the main provisions.

Sunday and Night Working More Flexible

Sunday Hours

The number of open Sundays will be extended from 5 currently to 12 per year by local authorities (Mayor).  On “Mayor Sundays” employees will get double pay and one additional rest day.

The Macron bill will simplify the categories and number of areas for Sunday openings. This means that in some sectors, such as shops, working on Sundays will be made easier. Within these areas, a collective agreement will define the compensation offered to employees working on Sunday, including, among others, indemnities for employees such as child care expenses and the right for employees to revert their consent at short notice.

Night Work

Night work which currently starts at 9 pm will be set between 10 pm and 6 am or 12 am to 7 am in designated tourist areas if subject to a collective agreement (company or branch level). The worked hours between 9 pm and 12 am (starting point of the night work) would at least be paid double and would give rise to compensatory rest. The collective agreement would provide as well for a means of transport for the employee to return home, similar conditions as for Sunday working.

Stronger Representation of Employees

Micro Businesses – Creation Of Joint Committee – A New Category Of Protected Employees

These commissions will aim to ensure the representation of employees in small businesses (11 or fewer employees). Their purpose is to provide information, issue opinions, participate in the resolution of individual and collective disputes to avoid court proceedings or make proposals on social and cultural activities.

The rule and mechanism of the joint committees is yet to be defined, but its members (elected employees and employers of these micro companies) will have the status of “protected employee” within their company and will receive a monthly credit of 5 hours for delegation work which is likely to increase the administrative and legal obligations for the employers of such workers.

Improved Professional Development For Staff Representatives

Staff delegates and union representatives often suffer discrimination in their career development because of their union/representative activities according to various reports. These representatives will now benefit from an individual assessment at the beginning and end of their mandate and an automatic increase in their remuneration, under certain conditions, based on the average increases given to employees within the same job category. If there are no other employees in the same category, reference will be made to the average increase given to each of the employees of the company. These increases are of course in addition to the mandatory assessments that all employees are entitled to.

Reduce the Number of Meetings with Staff Representatives

A key measure of the Rebsamen bill relates to the simplification of staff representation. Employers with fewer than 300 employees (200 currently) would put in place a single personnel delegation (“DUP”) regrouping the works council, staff delegates and the health and safety committee (“HSC”). The DUP would meet once every two months (instead of once a month currently). The DUP would operate under a single agenda and a single opinion. In companies with more than 300 employees, a body bringing together the works council, the HSC and staff representatives will be put in place by a collective agreement. The use of videoconferencing is also new (currently meetings have to be held face to face), and there will also be the option to gather the regular consultations together by theme.

Staff Representatives – Threshold Changes

Staff representatives would be mandatory when there are 21 employees and above (11 at present) and a works council from 100 employees (50 at present). A trade union could appoint a union representative if the company has at least 100 employees (currently 50). However, these provisions are subject to many amendments and it is therefore not excluded that they will be scrapped altogether.

Penalties for Breaching Employee Representatives’ Rights

Employers will no longer be imprisoned for obstructing the functioning of employee representatives.  However, financial penalties will be increased from 3,750 euros to 7,500 euros for disrupting the normal course of employee representatives’ activities and 15,000 euros for refusing to allow them.

Fixed-Term Contracts

Fixed-term contracts may be renewed twice in succession instead of once currently. So three consecutive fixed-term agreements will be possible within the maximum limit of 18 months and according to specific reasons stated by law.

Labour Courts Changes

A Cap on Labour Courts Damages

The Macron bill sets up an indicative scale of damages amounts to be awarded by the Courts to be paid by the employer to the employee. Recent government announcements go further by proposing the creation of an imperative award scale (minimum and maximum), for companies with fewer than 20 employees and those with more than 20 employees. The suggested amounts so far are well below the amounts currently granted by the courts: on average, between 2 and 15 years of service, 2 to 6 months’ salary for companies with fewer than 20 employees; 4-10 months for companies with over 20 employees. At this time, awards for unfair dismissal are not capped in France.

Conclusion

If all goes according to plan, the final drafts of the bills should be voted and enacted in the coming weeks. Some reforms will be welcomed by employers, including those simplifying employee representation in business and a greater flexibility in working time and capped awards for unfair dismissal, but the reform also means that employers will have increased burdens, which is contrary to the desperately needed competitiveness and simplification of French employment law.