Employment termination law and legislation in France

1. Dismissal of employees

1.1 Reasons for dismissal

The employer must establish a real and serious reason to dismiss an employee.

It may be:

  • a personal reason, notably a fault (disciplinary ground), poor performance, disablement of the employee when the employer is unable to relocate / redeploy him to another position or make reasonable adjustments to his post; or
  • an economic reason, such as economic difficulties, technological changes or the absolute necessity of restructuring to safeguard competitiveness. The economic reason is analysed at the level of the group’s companies established in France operating in the same business sector. The redeployment obligation for economic dismissal is limited to jobs available “in French territory in the company or in other companies of the group, the organisation, activities, and operating location of which allows mobility of some or all of the personnel“;
  • the refusal to amend the employment contract following a collective performance agreement

1.2 Form

The stages in the individual dismissal procedure are as follows:

  • The employee is formally invited to a preliminary meeting.
  • At least five business days after the formal invitation, a preliminary meeting is held during which the employer explains the reasons for the contemplated dismissal and listens to the employee’s explanation.
  • The employee may be assisted by a third party (an employee of the company or an adviser of the employee mentioned on an official list prepared by the Prefect, depending on the existence of employee representative bodies in the company).
  • The dismissal letter must be sent to the employee at least two (or seven for a dismissal due to economic reasons) business days after the meeting (and within a month for a disciplinary dismissal).

The dismissal letter must be a registered letter whose receipt must be acknowledged by the employee, signed by either a legal representative of the firm or a person duly empowered by a legal representative, and who must belong to the company.

Applicable collective bargaining agreements can provide for a more favourable timeframe and / or procedure.

The letter must explicitly mention the grounds for dismissal. There are other mandatory provisions such as the possibility of choosing to benefit temporarily the supplementary health care scheme in force in the company, etc.

The grounds set out in the dismissal letter may be specified by the employer or at the employee’s request after the letter has been sent. If the employee does not make such a request, the letter’s lack of an adequate explanation will not in itself support a finding that the dismissal lacks real and serious cause, but will merely entitle the employee to compensation of no more than one month’s salary.

A special procedure (possible involvement of the works council, see below,
meeting and notification of the dismissal) applies in the case of a dismissal for economic reasons or when the dismissal concerns a ‘protected employee’ (e.g. members of the social and economic council, and trade union delegates notably).

A specific procedure prior to the dismissal exists for employees who have been recognised as physically incapable of performing their work by a labour doctor (redeployment obligation, possible involvement of the social and economic council, etc.).

For a dismissal based on a disciplinary reason, the employer should move rapidly as the procedure must begin within a few weeks of the employer becoming aware of the reason for dismissal and no more than two months after the discovery of the facts.

1.3 Notice period

The notice period is set by the applicable collective bargaining agreement and the Labour Code, and generally lasts between one and three months. The contract may be terminated without notice in the event of gross misconduct or intentional misconduct.

1.4 Involvement of works council

The social and economic council must be informed and consulted (with an advisory but formal vote of its members) when a mass redundancy is planned, or for the planned dismissal of a protected employee or physically disabled employee.

1.5 Involvement of a union

When a company employs more than 50 workers, trade unions may be involved in a mass redundancy procedure to negotiate an ‘employment saving plan’.

1.6 Approval of state authorities necessary

This is required when dismissing ‘protected employees’ and now the validation or homologation of the employment saving plan is also required for mass redundancy procedures.

1.7 Collective redundancies

Different procedures apply according to the company’s workforce and the number of employees concerned (the procedures are ‘lighter’ in small companies that dismiss fewer than ten employees).

The main principles are the same:

  • The employer has a duty to inform and consult the staff representative bodies;
  • All documentation related to the collective redundancy must be sent to the state authorities

In case of mass redundancies (more than ten employees in a company employing at least 50 employees):

  • The employer has a duty to inform and consult the social and economic council, involving at least two meetings (the social and economic council may be assisted by an accountant in some cases). Please note that, with the new law, the duration of the consultation has been regulated.
  • An ‘employment saving plan’ (a social plan providing real alternatives and social measures accompanying the redundancy, such as redeployment, redeployment leave, training, etc.) should be drafted. There are two options for drafting it: either through a collective agreement negotiated with trade unions or unilaterally by the employer (only in the absence of trade unions in the company or if no agreement is found and then only after consultation with the social and economic council).
  • This employment saving plan should then be sent to the state authorities that will either validate it (if agreed with trade unions) or homologate it (if unilaterally drafted by the employer). If the state authorities do not agree with the plan, the employer may present another draft after consulting the social and economic council.

1.8 Summary dismissals

The term ‘summary dismissals’ has no real meaning in France. Dismissal without a notice period is only possible where there has been a serious breach, but even in that case, the form described above for dismissal procedure, including the preliminary meeting and registered letter, must still be applied. In case of dismissal without notice, the employee has no dismissal indemnity or notice period indemnity, because there is no notice period. Such dismissed employees are still entitled to unemployment insurance benefits, however. The dismissal procedure must begin within a few weeks of the employer becoming aware of the reason for dismissal and no more than two months after the discovering of the facts.

1.9 Consequences if requirements are not met

The amount of damages depends on the actual loss suffered by the employee. For dismissals notified on or after 24 September 2017, the ordonnance n° 2017-1387 provides that the damages have a preset minimum and a maximum amount depending on the employee’s length of service. The ordonnance also stipulates specific lower minimum amounts for companies that usually employ fewer than 11 employees, but the maximum remains identical.

In some circumstances, the dismissal will be void, allowing the employee to request reinstatement. (These circumstances may include collective redundancies without a social plan, dismissal after an occupational injury or in discriminatory dismissals, or dismissal of a protected employee without state authority authorisation). In such a case, the compensation cannot be less than six months’ salary.

1.10 Severance pay

Dismissal indemnity is payable unless the dismissal is due to gross misconduct or intentional misconduct. The amount payable is mainly set by the collective bargaining agreement but must not be less than 1 / 4 of the monthly salary per year of service for the first ten years of service, plus 1 / 3 of the monthly salary for each year of service after ten years. Indemnity is also payable for unused accrued holiday entitlement and for the notice period if the employer chooses to release the employee from performing it.

1.11 Non-competition clauses

A non-competition clause is only valid if provided in the work contract, and if:

  • The employer demonstrates that this clause is necessary to safeguard his interests and proportionate (e.g. the lower is the position the less the clause is justified);
  • Its scope is limited to a reasonable area, a reasonable period of time, and precise activities; and
  • The employee receives a monthly indemnity during the term of the clause (the indemnity amount is set by the work contract or collective bargaining agreement, but is generally between 20% and 50% of the employee’s monthly salary).

This clause can be waived by the employer in the letter of dismissal or according to the provision of the applicable collective bargaining agreement and / or employment contract.

The examination of the terms of the applicable collective bargaining agreement is key on this matter.

1.12 Miscellaneous

Specific and restrictive rules and procedures apply in the case of pregnant women, women on and returning from maternity leave, young fathers, and employees recovering after a work-related accident or suffering from a work-related illness. Women on maternity leave cannot be dismissed during this period.

Since 2008, a new means of termination has been introduced, namely “by mutual agreement”. This new possibility is called ‘rupture conventionnelle’ (mutual termination of the employment contract). The termination is agreed by both employer and employee and there is no cause or reason to demonstrate.

The employee is entitled to unemployment insurance benefits and dismissal indemnity provided by law or the applicable collective bargaining agreement (or more if agreed).

A strict procedure including preliminary meetings and consideration periods should be followed (both parties have the benefit of 15 calendar days to retract, from the date on which the form is signed); a specific form must be filled in and signed by both parties.

The specific form must be sent to the state authorities for agreement. The state authorities have a 15-open day period to review the form. Within these 15 days, the state authorities can agree to the termination, disagree or stay silent (silence amounts to agreement). However, the state authorities must expressly agree for protected employees. Otherwise the termination is void.

Since September 2017 it has been possible for the employer to negotiate a collective agreement through a ‘rupture conventionnelle collective’ (mass mutual termination of the employment contract) with trade unions. Such an agreement can only implement voluntary departures and thus excludes any dismissals designed to eliminate jobs. This new method of terminating contracts is entirely excluded from the rules governing economic dismissals. The labour administration is informed as soon as negotiations to conclude such an agreement start and reviews the agreement’s contents before validating it.

2. Dismissal of managing directors

2.1 Reasons for dismissal

The company may generally revoke the appointment of the managing director without cause, unless stated otherwise in the by-laws of the company or the resolution of appointment. However, a fair reason is legally required in certain forms of companies (e. g. the civil form or commercial forms such as certain limited companies (‘SA’) or limited liability companies (‘SARL’)).

2.2 Form

A resolution taken by the shareholders or board of directors, depending on the form of the company and the internal organisation of the management. The managing director must be notified in writing of the revocation, and the change of managing director must be published in a public Corporate Register.

2.3 Notice period

There is no notice period, except where one is provided by the by-laws of the company or in the resolution of appointment of the managing director.

2.4 Involvement of works council

No.

2.5 Involvement of a union

Not applicable.

2.6 Approval of state authorities necessary

No.

2.7 Collective redundancies

Not applicable.

2.8 Summary dismissals

Not applicable.

2.9 Consequences if requirements are not met

Damages may mainly be claimed:

  • for lack of fair reason in companies where such a reason is legally required to revoke a representative; or
  • if the revocation is notified under hurtful circumstances (e.g. is very sudden and unexpected, or is publicly announced before the director is informed), or if the managing director has not been granted a reasonable opportunity to make his point before the decision to revoke him is made (absence of due process).

2.10 Severance pay

There is no mandatory severance pay for the capacity as director, unless stated otherwise in the by-laws of the company or in the resolution of appointment of the managing director.

2.11 Non-competition clauses

The terms of any non-competition clause must be agreed between the parties. If the scope of the clause is too wide (according to its geographic area, its length, or the activities it concerns), its validity may be challenged.

2.12 Miscellaneous

The director may also be an employee. In this case, a proper dismissal process will have to be implemented in addition to the revocation process and corresponding dismissal indemnities paid.