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.
Employers may wish to avoid a potential dispute over a termination of employment by obtaining a waiver of rights from an employee in consideration for a termination payment. In the UK this agreement is referred to as a settlement agreement and there are a number of statutory formalities to include before such an agreement is enforceable in respect of statutory rights, including the requirement that the individual takes independent advice on the terms of the agreement. There are also risks attached to making an offer to an employee to enter into a settlement agreement and therefore legal advice should be taken before doing so. In addition, in 2019 the UK Government announced legislation on the use of non-disclosure agreements in discrimination cases which was expected to come into force in 2020, however given the pandemic, this has been delayed and no new time frame has been given. The UK statutory equality body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued guidance on this subject in October 2019 setting out good practice for employers to consider.
The employer cannot, without the prior consent of the relevant organization, terminate the employment contracts of works council members or supervisory boards representing workers, workers’ representatives (including those on the council of an institution), or appointed or elected trade union representatives.
Other categories of protected workers include older workers, parents and disabled persons.
The employer may not terminate the employment contract of an older employee, who has reached the age of 58 or of an employee, who has less than five years until qualifying for an old-age pension due to a business reason without his written consent.
This protection does not apply if:
- the employee is assured a right to unemployment benefit until he fulfils the minimum conditions for receiving an old-age pension; or
- appropriate new employment is offered to the employee; or
- in the event the employee has already fulfilled the above conditions for protection against the termination of the employment contract when he concluded the respective contract, unless the contract was concluded according to item (ii); or
- proceedings have been initiated for terminating the business of the employer.
The employer is not allowed to terminate the employment contract of mothers during their pregnancy, while breastfeeding of children up to the age of one, or the contracts of parents during their parental leave in the form of full absence from work, and for one month thereafter. This notwithstanding, the written employment contract can be terminated with the prior consent of the labour inspectorate, if there are reasons for extraordinary termination of the employment contract, or if proceedings for terminating the employer’s business have been initiated.
The employer may terminate the employment contract of a disabled person:
- due to his incapacity to perform work subject to the conditions set out in the employment contract; or
- due to business-related reasons;
- but both are subject to the conditions set out in legislation governing pension and disability insurance or work rehabilitation, and the employment of disabled persons.
This does not apply if proceedings have been initiated for terminating the business of the employer.