FYI: French Labor Laws on Terminating Employees

Thursday, March 23, 2006 at 04:27 PM

A  summary of the French labor laws is available online.  I believe this is a site run by the French government, but I'm not positive.

I quickly read over the description of the law on terminating employees and I've got to tell you, it doesn't sound that "rigid," "strict," or "stultifying"--all adjectives that I've seen used repeatedly in American press stories about the French protests of the proposed new law for young workers.  Read the summary below and ask yourself, whether this is obstructionist or a reasonable way to balance the interests of the employer and employees.

The summary of termination laws:

1.4.Termination of employees on economic or personal grounds
Employment contracts can be terminated at the employee's initiative (resignation) or at the employer's initiative (dismissal). Employers must provide real and serious reasons for dismissal, and comply with the legally prescribed procedure.

1.4.1.Layoffs enable companies to adapt to market conditions Layoffs can be individual or collective. Individual employees must be asked to attend a preliminary interview before they are laid off. The head of the company must meet with the works committee and consult with it about collective layoffs.

Individual layoffs and layoffs of two to nine employees can only become effective seven days after the interview date, or 15 days, in the case of supervisory personnel. A 'job preservation plan' must be drawn up when layoffs of 10 or more employees in a 30-day period are being considered. The plan must explain all action taken to avoid the loss of jobs, such as reorganizing work, job sharing, redeployment of employees inside and outside the company, etc. The plan must also explain the financial terms of the severance package. It is then submitted to the staff representatives and the labor authorities. The notification period for layoffs under a 'job preservation plan' varies according to the number of employees concerned. Layoffs of up to 100 employees can take place 30 days after the labor authorities have been notified of the layoff plan. The waiting period is 45 days for layoffs of 100 to 249 employees and 60 days for 250 or more employees.

Severance pay is at least one fifth of the employee's monthly pay (including bonuses) for each year of service up to 10 years and one third of the employee's monthly pay for each additional year.

For more information:
Article L122 and following of the Labor Code.

Voluntary departures following job cuts, redeployment or reorganization, and refusals to accept substantial changes to employment contracts are treated as layoffs.

1.4.2. Dismissal on personal grounds
Personal dismissal procedures can be initiated for misconduct on the part of the employee or conduct that is not actually delinquent, but nevertheless harms the company's interests. A warning is often issued before initiating the dismissal procedure. The employee must be given an opportunity to provide explanations at a preliminary interview, before the dismissal becomes effective. The employer must also comply with the notice period that the employee is entitled to under the law or the relevant collective bargaining agreement. In principle, the notice period is two months for employees with more than two years of service. Employees are not entitled to severance pay in cases of serious misconduct.

The staff representation system varies according to the size of the company. In companies with more than 10 employees, staff representatives are elected by the employees to present individual and collective pay claims and to ensure compliance with labor laws.

A works committee must be set up when a company has 50 or more employees. The committee is elected by the employees to represent their interests when decisions are made about changes in the company and changes in working organization in particular. Trade unions are also entitled to set up bargaining units in a company. Only around 8% of French workers are unionized.

Establishments with 50 or more employees must also set up a Joint Safety Committee (CHSCT) to involve the staff in training and other initiatives to prevent occupational risks and improve working conditions.

Geez, imagine that.  They (employers) can't summarily dismiss everyone and anyone at the drop of a hat or at a snitty whim.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie version of Catch 22 is when the bigshot General comes to hand out medals for the air crews who dumped their bombs in the sea.  Angered by moaning among the assembled troops, he turns to his Sergeant:

General: Sergeant, take this man out and shoot him.

General's son & snivelling aide: Uh, I don't think you can do that, dad.

General:  I can't?  Why not?