The issue of reconciling work and personal life has become a growing concern in France and resulted in particular in the negotiation of a nation-wide inter-sectoral agreement relating to the quality of working life in 2013. In this context, the issue of flexible working raises, among other things, the question of whether employees benefit from particular rights to request more flexible working organisation, i.e. a change in working hours or a request to work from home, on the basis of family-related obligations or, more broadly, personal constraints.
As a general rule, rights as well as individual and collective freedom of employees can only be restricted if such restriction is justified by the nature of the task to be performed and is proportional to the purpose sought. Consequently, an employer would be required to take into consideration the impact of its decisions on the personal life of its employees. Indirectly, this permits, to a certain extent, the reconciliation of work and personal life through the prism of protection of the employees’ liberties by allowing them to challenge the validity of the employer’s decisions if such decisions can be considered as an abuse by the employer of its authority.
However, subject to more favorable provisions in the employment contract or the company’s collective status, French employment law does not provide for a comprehensive set of rules permitting employees to request a more flexible working pattern from their employer.
In this respect, only certain specific statutory provisions can be used for the benefit of employees in order to achieve a work life balance. We summarise below the most significant provisions.
Part-time work provisions
- Full-time employees willing to assume or return to a part-time position within the same company enjoy priority of access to a part-time employment in their professional category or to a similar employment. Conversely, a similar priority is provided for part-time employees willing to assume or return to a full-time position or a position with longer working hours.
- Voluntary part-time work: the employee may request a change from full-time to part-time hours from the employer. The conditions of implementation of such request are determined by the applicable collective agreement, which should provide that the employer may only refuse such request on the basis of objective reasons. In the absence of a collective agreement, the employer may only refuse such request if it can demonstrate the absence of available employment within the employee’s professional category or show that the change requested by the employee would result in prejudicial consequences on the proper operation of the company.
- Family part-time: the employee may, at his/her request and for family-related reasons, benefit from a reduction in his/her working time in the form of one or several periods of at least one week. The employer may only refuse such request for objective reasons related to the operational requirements of the company.
- Leaves on a part-time basis: upon fulfillment of specific conditions, employees are entitled to take specific leaves through a reduction in their working time. There exists two main leaves to which the employees may be entitled, i.e. parental leave and business creation leave. While part-time work under parental leave may not be opposed by the employer, a reduction in working time in the context of a business creation leave can be delayed or refused in certain circumstances (quota of simultaneous absences, prejudicial consequences on the production and operation of the business for companies employing less than 200 employees) and can in any event be delayed for up to 6 months without justification.
Similarly to part-time work, night workers benefit from a priority of access to day work. A priority of access to night work is also available to day workers.
In certain situations of Sunday work, employees are granted a priority of access to employment that does not include work on Sundays. In such cases, employees are also entitled to request that they no longer work on Sundays, such change being effective 3 months following the notification of the request to the employer.
In this regard, any employee can benefit from an adjustment to his/her work schedule for the practice of a sport. This right is however not absolute as it is contingent on the operational needs of the business.
Apart from the above, there are no other particular rights related to working hours that allow a better work life balance for the benefit of employees. Although there does exist a working time organization in which working hours can be partly individualized (as opposed to collective working hours), such organization is always subject to the employer’s consent and thus cannot be requested by the employee.
Working from home
Under French employment law, it is possible to implement a working organization in which employees work from their home. However, this type of working arrangement may only be put in place with the employer and employee’s consent. Therefore, the employee would not be allowed to impose this particular working organisation. At the very least, it should be noted that the employee working from his/her home benefits from a priority of access to any available non-home working position within the company.