A works council must be elected in companies which employ at least 50 employees on an habitual basis in France, and such works council must be informed and consulted on numerous matters (the principle being that the works council has to be informed and consulted before any definite or irremediable decision is made by the employer).
In the context of such consultation, the employer is required to provide the works council with precise and written information concerning the contemplated measure, and French employment law requires the employer to obtain an opinion from the works council before making the final decision. Although such opinion can be either negative or positive (i.e., the works council does not have a veto right), it is not unusual to see works councils delaying providing any opinion on a specific project, in an attempt to postpone the project indefinitely.
However, such practice should come to an end, as specific timeframes for response by the works council have been created by a recent law of 14 June 2013, which has been supplemented by a decree dated 27 December 2013. A written position from the labour administration is currently under preparation to include additional specifications relating to this set of measures.
Under the new law, the employer and its works council (more precisely the majority of tenured members of such body) can agree on the timeframe for the consultation of the works council (except if fixed timeframes are already provided by the French Employment Code such as for mass redundancies). Such agreement cannot however provide for less than 15 days between the date the employer provides the relevant information to the works council and the meeting with the works council.
In case of failure to reach an agreement with the works council, the following time periods are applicable, such periods beginning to run on the date on which the employer provides the relevant information to the works council:
- Generally: 1 month;
- 2 months if the works council appoints an expert for assistance in the consultation process (timeframes for the submission by such expert of his expertise report have also been set);
- 3 months if the health and safety committee(s) must also be consulted on the contemplated measure;
- 4 months if a coordination body for the various relevant health and safety committees has been appointed.
If the works council has not provided its opinion within these timeframes, it will be deemed to have issued a negative opinion on the project (which means the consultation process is deemed to be completed and the employer can implement the project). If it considers that it does not have sufficient information to issue its opinion, the works council may file a claim in summary proceedings before the President of the competent civil court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) to obtain additional information. This jurisdiction may, in some circumstances, order that the timeframe be extended.
Therefore, employers should at last be able to have a clearer view on the duration of the consultation process with the French works council.