Due to the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic currently raging in France, the government has announced exceptional measures, including limiting travel “to what is strictly necessary”, closing certain establishments, compulsory teleworking whenever possible, simplified use of short-time working, ban on economic redundancies, suspension of court activity. Update on the latest government announcements. N.B. It should be stated that some developments need to be confirmed by legislation or regulations.
Consequences of measures to combat coronavirus
In his address on 14 March 2020, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the closure from midnight on Saturday and until further notice of all public spaces not essential to the life of the country. Two decrees of 14 and 15 March 2020 list establishments which will no longer be accessible to the public until 15 April 2020. These include:
- courtrooms, conference venues, meeting rooms and performance halls;
- retail stores and shopping centres, except those listed in the appendix to the ruling and for their delivery and order collection activities;
- bars and restaurants, except for their delivery and takeaway activities, room service from hotel restaurants and bars and contract catering;
- dance halls and amusement arcades;
- libraries, documentation centres, exhibition halls;
- covered sporting venues;
- museums, marquees, tents and temporary structures;
- open-air venues;
- early-learning, educational and training facilities, holiday camps, leisure centres without accommodation.
In addition, until that date, any gathering, meeting or activity attended by more than 100 people simultaneously in an enclosed or open environment is prohibited on French territory. Only those essential to the continuity of the life of the nation may be continued on an exception basis with authorisation from the government representative (e.g. Prefecture). Decree no. 2020-249 of 14 March 2020 makes the decree of 14 March 2020 applicable from its publication date, i.e. 15 March 2020. To further strengthen the fight against spread of the virus, on 16 March 2020 President Emmanuel Macron announced restrictions on travel in France “to what is strictly necessary from Tuesday midday, for at least 15 days”. Decree no. 2020-260 of 16 March 2020 regulating travel in order to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, (Official Journal of 17 March), bans “until 31 March 2020, travel by anyone outside their home with the exception of travel for the following reasons, in compliance with general measures to prevent the spread of the virus and avoiding any grouping of people:
1 Journeys between home and place(s) of work and professional journeys which cannot be postponed;
2 Travel to purchase supplies necessary for professional activity and purchases of basic necessities in establishments whose activities remain authorised in the ruling by the Minister of Health, made on the basis of the provisions of Article L. 3131-1 of the French Public Health Code;
3 Travel for health reasons;
4 Travel for compelling family reasons, to assist vulnerable persons or for childcare;
5 Short journeys, close to home, for reasons of individual physical activity, excluding any group sports, and for the needs of pets.
Persons wishing to benefit from one of these exceptions must produce a document enabling them to justify that the journey in question falls within the scope of one of those exceptions when travelling outside their home.”
In light of the above, the employer must:
Employees must also constantly be in possession of the certificate filled out by them indicating that they are commuting to their place of work or making a professional journey that cannot be postponed. The exceptional travel certificate can be downloaded from the same site and also be drawn up on plain paper. Violations of the travel rules will be punished with a fine ranging from €38 to €135.
Use of short-time working
All companies whose activity is reduced due to the coronavirus epidemic and particularly those required to close under the decree of 14 March 2020 (restaurants, cafés, shops, etc.), are eligible for the short-time working scheme.
Short-time working allows the employer to reduce its employees’ working hours or temporarily close all or part of its establishment. The objective of short-time working is to allow employment to be maintained and to partially compensate the loss of remuneration suffered by employees as a result of hours not worked. For hours not worked up to the legal working time – or the contractually stipulated working time, if less – the employee therefore benefits from an indemnity payable by the employer, corresponding to a percentage of their gross earnings, without that being able to be lower than the net minimum wage (SMIC – salaire minimum de croissance) for the legal working time. For each hour not worked up to the legal working time – or the contractually stipulated working time, if less – the employer receives a short-time working allowance co-funded by the government and the body responsible for managing the unemployment insurance scheme (Unédic), the rate of which varies according to the size of the company. Implementation of short-time working requires prior authorisation from the authorities. The authorisation request is made electronically on the site: www.activitepartielle.emploi.gouv.fr. The draft decree modifying the short-time working mechanism announced by the Labour Ministry states that:
- the allowance paid by the government to the company will be proportional to the income of the employees placed on short-time working. Currently a lump sum (€7.74 per hour worked per employee, for companies with fewer than 250 employees, €7.23 for companies with more than 250 employees), this allowance will be set at 70% of the gross earnings of the employee concerned, up to a maximum of 4.5 times the hourly minimum wage. The employer is obliged provide its employees with compensation equal to at least 70% of their gross earnings (i.e. around 84% of the net salary);
- employers will have 30 days to submit their short-time working request;
- the opinion of the social and economic committee (CSE – comité social et économique) may be sent to the authorities within two months of the prior authorisation request;
- companies will be able to benefit from the system for a maximum period of 12 months if justified (compared to a maximum of six months currently);
- employees on a salary fixed according to hours or days will be eligible for short-time working, including when the establishment is not completely closed.
Economic redundancies prohibited
The Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud indicated in Les Echos on 16 March 2020 that companies would be left with no other choice than to resort to short-time working and that job-saving plans (PSEs – plans de sauvegarde de l'emploi) will not be permitted during the coronavirus crisis. No redundancy plan will therefore be able to be validated or approved from 15 March 2020.
Suspension of court activities
In order to allow the continuity of court activities while limiting the spread of the virus, the Minister of Justice activated a business continuity plan for the courts. Since 16 March 2020, courts have been closed except for hearings relating to “essential litigation”, for example remand hearings pending criminal trials, judicial review proceedings and immediate arraignments. Employment tribunals and social security litigation are not included in the list of essential litigation. Those hearings will therefore be deferred. The Minister of Justice is currently working on measures to be taken with regard to procedural deadlines and limitation periods.
In this crisis situation, all the teams from the CMS Francis Lefebvre Avocats social law department are on hand to advise you and assist you with the steps to take.
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