A series of "asbestos" decisions in 2002 saw the French courts create stringent and absolute safety obligations on the part of the employer to guarantee the health and safety of its employees. It is not enough for them to try to guarantee their health and safety.
In Snecma (Cass. Soc. 5 March 2008, n°06-45.888) it fell to the Courts to decide, in the context of a re-organisation, whether the employer's acts impacted on employees' health and safety. In so doing, the Court took into account whether the employer had provided sufficient information and documentation to enable its Health & Safety Committee to assess the psycho-social risks involved in the restructuring. The French Supreme Court decided that, in the context of the Snecma reorganisation, the employer's changes to employee shift patterns and working time impacted on the employees' health and safety. It took the further step of suspending the reorganisation.
The reorganisation in this particular case did not involve any redundancies but did involve a reduction in the number of employees who were employed as supervisors in charge of the daytime shift. This meant that the daytime supervisor, responsible for control and maintenance operations, would be alone at the beginning and end of each shift, as well as during the summer time, when others would be taking holiday. The Court considered that the fact that the employee in charge of control and maintenance operations would be alone increased the safety risks related to work conditions in a Seveso plant (i.e. a plant in which there was a significant risk of accidents because of dangerous substances) and that the assistance offered by the employer in return was insufficient to guarantee the employees' security.
The decision in Snecma has created a precedent in relation to reorganisations. It demonstrates that an employer's decision making, in particular as regards decisions impacting on employees' health and safety, is subject to the higher principle that employees' health must be protected.