French employment law is in favour of protecting employees. However, in reality, provided the correct procedures are followed, and given the recent legislative changes, it is possible to navigate through the laws successfully
France is a civil law country and employment relationships are governed by the Labour Code. The majority of industry sectors have also negotiated Collective Bargaining Agreements (“CBAs”) which supersede the Labour Code on certain points. These CBAs apply automatically to employers that fall within the scope of the CBA. There is no requirement to subscribe or have trade union presence. The law changes very frequently and is undergoing a number of reforms to simplify it, making it more business-friendly and increasing trade union negotiations to achieve solutions that are closer to the needs of specific businesses and industry sectors.
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- Certain employees are protected and their termination requires authorisation from the labour authorities.
- Other employees (on maternity leave for instance) benefit from absolute protection – they cannot be terminated under any circumstances.
- Working time: the 35 hour week is only a threshold, not a maximum working time limit.
- There are various arrangements that enable employees to work more than 35 hours, for instance working time calculated in days rather than hours.
- The French social security system is expensive but provides a high level of statutory benefits (sick pay, unemployment benefits etc.) to employees. Companyside contributions are in the region of 45% on top of gross salary, and employee contributions around 20-25%.
- Unemployment benefits are very high in France (minimum 57% of salary for up to 2 years (3 years for employees over 50) post termination).
Restructuring programmes: key issues
- Works councils and other employee representatives have a right to be informed and consulted before a definitive decision is taken on a project. Legislation now limits the maximum duration of works council consultation to one month (two months if the works council appoints an expert, three months if the project has consequences on employees’ health, safety or working conditions, and four months if the company has a health and safety committee coordination body), which means that projects can no longer be suspended indefinitely by the works council refusing to issue an opinion.
- A specific procedure applies for redundancies. The procedure varies depending on the size of the company and the number of redundancies envisaged. Where a social plan needs to be implemented (10 or more redundancies in a company with at least 50 employees) the company can negotiate with trade unions and must consult with staff representatives. The social plan must also be ratified by the labour authorities.
- Selection criteria must be applied to choose the employees to be made redundant. Employees are entitled to a statutory severance payment and notice period. Other measures are also implemented in order to promote redeployment both within the group and externally.
- Employment at will does not apply. Any dismissal must be justified and employees can challenge the grounds put forward, claiming that their dismissal was unfair so as to obtain damages.
- There is no obligation for employees to mitigate their detriment by actively seeking alternative employment post termination – the court will not award lower damages if an employee has not done so.