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Emergency law to confront the covid-19 epidemic

The law which has just been adopted contains two headings


Aside from the postponement of the second round of the municipal elections to June 2020, the law which the Government has just  passed contains two headings:

  • the creation of a health state of emergency;
  • economic emergency measures for companies.

The creation of a health state of emergency 

The law creates, on the  the same model as the state of emergency, a health state of emergency in the event of "a health disaster endangering, by its nature and its seriousness, the health of the population". The health state of emergency is declared by decree in the council of ministers for a period of one month. Its extension beyond one month may be authorised only by law.

The health state of emergency enables the Prime Minister, who holds regulatory power at national level, to:

  • restrict or prohibit the circulation of people and vehicles;
  • prohibit people from leaving their home;
  • order quarantine measures;
  • order measures placing and maintaining affected persons in isolation;
  • order the temporary closure of one or more categories of establishments open to the public and meeting places;
  • limit or prohibit gatherings in public places;
  • order the requisition of any property and services necessary to combat the health disaster and any person necessary for the operation of these services;
  • take temporary measures to control the prices of certain products;
  • take any measure  allowing the provision to patients of appropriate drugs;
  • "as is required, take by decree any other regulatory measure limiting the freedom to undertake, with the sole purpose of ending the health disaster".

Breach of the bans and obligations entailed in most of these measures is sanctioned by a fourth category fine and, in the event of a repeat breach, by six months’ imprisonment and a 3,750 euros fine.

The Health Minister may, in the departments in which the health state of emergency is declared, prescribe any regulatory measure relating to the organisation and to the working of the health system and any individual measure necessary for the application of the measures taken by the Prime Minister.

The measures taken within the framework of the health state of emergency may be the object of an interim appeal before the administrative court.

In the event of declaration of the health state of emergency, a scientific committee is formed without delay.

Article 4 of the law states that the health state of emergency is declared for a period of two months from the entry into force of the law.

The announcement of the health state of emergency thus enables all the measures which have been taken to-date and which are the subject of the new regime to be secured. All these measures have been taken on the basis of the single article L.3131–1 of the Public Health Code, under the terms of which: "In the event of a serious health threat calling for emergency measures, notably in the event of a threat of an epidemic, the minister in charge of health may, by way of a reasoned government order, prescribe, in the interest of public health, any measure proportionate to the risks incurred and appropriate to the circumstances of time and place in order to prevent and limit the consequences of the possible threats to the population’s health.’

Economic emergency measures and measures to adapt to combatting the COVID-19 epidemic 

Article 11 authorises the Government to approve a very large number of orders to:

  • put in place measures to support the cash situation of individuals and legal entities exercising an economic activity and a solidarity fund, the financing of which will be shared between the government and the regions;
  • "to limit the ending of employment contracts and attenuate the effects of the drop in activity, by facilitating and reinforcing recourse to short-time working for all companies, irrespective of their size, notably by temporarily adapting the  social regime applicable to the indemnities paid within this framework,  by extending it to new categories of beneficiaries, and by reducing, for the employees, the amount remaining payable by the employer and, for the self-employed, the loss of income"
  • adapt the conditions of attribution of the complementary indemnity paid in the event of incapacity resulting from an accident or from an illness;
  • "enable a company or branch agreement to authorise the employer to impose or to modify the dates on which part of the paid leave is taken, within the limit of six working days". This provision is very political: at the outset, the Government wanted to enable the employer to modify the dates on which leave was taken; in the end, following debate, it agreed on the collective agreement formula;
  • "enable any employer to unilaterally impose or modify the dates of days of working time reduction (RTT), of the rest days provided by the  fixed number of working hours/days conventions and of the rest days  allocated to the employee’s time savings account". In this hypothesis, contrary to the previous one, the employer may act by unilateral decision;
  • enable companies, in sectors particularly necessary to the nation’s security or to the continuity of the economic and employment life, to  derogate from the public order rules and the convention stipulations relating to the working time, to weekly rest and to Sunday rest;
  • modify, exceptionally, the limit dates and conditions of payment of the sums paid under profit-sharing;
  • modify the limit date and the conditions of payment of the exceptional purchasing power bonus;
  • adapt the organisation of the election in companies of less than 10 employees, by modifying if necessary the definition of the electoral body and, consequently, exceptionally extend the period of the mandates of the  labor relations boards’ counsellors;
  • rearrange the conditions of exercising by the works’ health services of their duties, notably the tracking of the state of health of the workers;
  • modify the conditions of informing and consulting the personnel representative bodies, notably the social and economic committee (CSE), in order to enable them to issue the required opinions within the deadlines laid down and suspend the ongoing CSE electoral processes;
  • adapt, exceptionally, the conditions for determining the periods of attribution of the unemployment insurance allocations;
  • permit complete postponement or the spreading of the payment of rents, water, gas and electricity bills relating to professional and commercial premises and waive the financial penalties and cut-offs, interruptions or reductions in supply likely to be applied in the event of non-payment of these bills to the benefit of micro-enterprises.

All the orders implemented on the basis of this article  are exempted from  any mandatory consultation provided by a legislative or regulatory provision.

The 49 orders to which the law refers  revive the initial inspiration for this procedure (cf. in 1958 the Armand-Rueff orders). They have the advantage of  allowing to confine the Parliament where the virus is already highly present. They will nevertheless mean considerable work for the Administration in the coming weeks.

Lastly, article 8 of the law provides - after weeks of pressure, to ensure fair treatment for all insured parties, employees and public servants, placed in isolation, forced to look after their children or ill  - for waiving, during the period of the health state of emergency, the waiting period to benefit from the  compensation of periods off work in all the regimes (general, farming regime, special regimes, civil service). It is one of the very rare employment provisions directly applicable.

Definitively adopted on 22 March 2020, the emergency law should be published very soon.

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