Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, February 25, 2013

A real eye-opener

This past weekend's classes were on the Droit du Travail (French labor laws), and while it sounds boring, it actually turned out to be very interesting.  We covered everything from hiring to firing, and all the hiccups that happen in between.  For example, we learned about "droit d'usage", which means that if you, as a company, provide your employees with something (like a bonus) on more than two occasions, but then you don't the following year, your employees can claim it is a hardship and take you court (and will most likely win).

*As side note, this principal also exists in the countryside, so be careful if you have land and your neighboring farmer asks if his animals can graze on it....if you let him do it, it will be almost impossible later to reclaim that land back for your own use!  I saw it happen with my own two eyes in Bretagne....

We also talked about things like CVs and resumes, and whether or not nowadays people still needed to put things like their picture, marital status, age, etc on them.  A few of the larger, foreign companies have moved away from this, but most French companies still want access to this info.  It was actually quite funny to see my classmates reactions to this -like "If you take away all of that information, how are you supposed to evaluate a candidate?"  And I was like "Um, how about on their actual skills?"   There is still a phenomenal amount of discrimination in France when it comes to addresses (avoid le 9-3), being a woman of child-bearing age, having foreign names and different skin colors, etc.  This is slowly changing of course, mostly due to lawsuits, but it definitely still exists. 

And I don't know how many of you have run it to it, but when I first moved to France, when you applied for a job, you had hand-write your cover letter, mainly so that they could do a hand-writing analysis on it.  I used to find that so crazy - and even more so that some of my classmates said their companies still practiced it today!

Religious issues were also brought up.  How do you deal with an employee who needs to pray several times a day?  On one hand, you want to respect his religious beliefs, but on the other, if he's praying out loud in an open space, he's potentially bothering other employees and creating a disruption.  And prayer times usually don't correspond to break times, and you can't take away his break times in exchange, so the other employees will be upset because he gets to work less than they do for the same salary. 

Another one of my classmates brought up the case of an employee who was on extended sick leave, and at what point could they fire them.  The answer was - if the person can do a job that is easily replaceable (secretary, salesman, etc), then you basically could never fire them.  But if they do a job that is quite complicated and that a temp worker could not do, you could eventually fire them after a few years, after showing that it was hurting the company by not having a person in that position (though in the mean while, all of that work is being split up amongst the other employees in the company and putting additional stress on them).

There were also other questions about firing people, and how extremely difficult it was. For example, let's say you have a horrible employee who is not doing their job (of which you have repeated evidence), so you fire them for faute grave.  But if you word things wrong in your lettre de licenciement, the employee could take you to court and a judge could rule that the firing was illegal and then make you pay all of the things that come with laying someone off (= mega bucks).  Our prof says that this happens way more often than you'd think....

The craziest thing I heard however was about the French version of Temptation Island (the reality TV show).  Apparently the participants from the 2003 season took the producers to court because they said they should be considered employees of TF1 instead of contestants.  Their reasoning was that they were "kept" onsite and could not go home at free will, they were told what to say and wear, they were housed and fed, they were on camera for 20 out of 24 hours a day, and they should have had rights to unemployment afterwards  And they won!  TF1 ended up having to pay them (including overtime), and the poor guy who actually won the show had to give the prize money back since he was now considered an employee.

My main takeaway from this was that as an employer, you have to be super careful about what you do. Even hiring a contractor can come back and bite you in the butt because if the contractor can prove that you have any sort of authority of them (be it by telling them what to do or by 'sanctioning' them for poor work), they can ask that their contract be re-qualified as a CDI, and then you're stuck with them and all the costs that come with having a full-time employee. It definitely makes me understand why so many French companies are hesitant to make changes or hire people long-term.  And it also explains why so many unions exist - the laws are so crazy that there is no way that a single employee could know all of their rights, and employers often take advantage of that. Which leads to constant distrust between the two and strikes and all the rest.

Either way, after all of this, it's definitely made me rethink my idea of opening up a European office of The Company in France.....



Blogger Emily in Exile said...

Don't you also have to give like two months notice if you want to quit a job?

The thing about letting your neighbor use your land and never getting back is crazy. Talk about no good deed goes unpunished.

February 25, 2013 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Gwan said...

Wow,how much of a dick would you have to be to go "well, you did me a favour and now this is my land?"

A lot of the protections are great (in theory) for employees, but just end up making it too hard for businesses to hire people, and you get situations where you're just strung along on a CDD for ever and ever with no on security. (I think it's much shorter in the private sector, but you can be on CDDs for six years in the public sector before they have to give you a CDI!)

I'm probably biased, but I feel like New Zealand has a happy medium between how hard it is to fire people in France and how easy (from what I've heard) it is to fire people in the US.

February 25, 2013 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Andromeda said...

This why my RH licence is turning out to be such a good choice . . . No matter what I end up doing, I know my rights! Like as an expat, I can take all 5 weeks of vacation at once, when normally you can only do 4 and the 5th is non-consecutive . . . There was a whole dossier on droit du travail in Captial a few months ago, how it's so hard for companies, even those who want to grow. Seuils are the trickiest, so many try to stay under 50 ppl, otherwise all sorts of extra stuff kicks in. It really seems like growth is less important than individual rights, if you just look at the law. But some companies do really well, so it's not like it's impossible . . . Would love to know what goes on inside the lawmakers' heads!

February 25, 2013 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Animesh said...

Whoa! Very interesting indeed! I have some interesting stories from my workplace too, but I think they are best left not posted publicly :)


February 25, 2013 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger The Paris Chronicles said...

Great, enriching post! This class sounds fantastic, and you are getting some of the real nitty-gritty info on [hidebound, imho] French labor law.

You are going to be the most-valuable expat in Paris, I predict. Why just hiring yourself out as a cross-cultural workplace consultant could make you a millionaire!

Of course then you'd have to pay 75% of that back to the government but whatever. Consider moving to Russia in that case :D

February 26, 2013 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Ksam said...

@Animesh - that is probably a good call!!

@TheParisChronicles - Being a cross-cultural consultant would be my dream job! If you ever hear of something, let me know. ;)

February 26, 2013 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

It's things like this that make me hate France! I would never, ever start a business there and I think that's one of the main issues holding back businesses/entrepreneurs in the country. How do they expect the massive unemployment problem to change when there are so many rules and restrictions on businesses. Anyone in their right mind would just start a business in another European country.

March 2, 2013 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Some of it sounds just like England , but not sure . They seem to be able to sue for so many things in this country ..human rights and all that.

March 2, 2013 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Lady Jennie said...

I knew a lot of this, but the sheep grazing and Temptation Island was a real eye-opener. It is crazy. Just crazy.

March 3, 2013 at 10:11 AM  

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