French labour laws - Employment contracts
What's the difference between a CDD and CDI? Here's a guide on the types of French job contracts, from negotiating your contract to terminating employment.
The French love paperwork and without proper documentation you are powerless. You may have spent 17 years working for Francois Mitterand, but if you don't have the paperwork to prove it, in the eyes of the French government, it never happened.
This is to say that you are not employed unless you have a signed contract in French. Some employers will offer their foreign employees a translated version of the official French contract – if yours does then consider it a gift, but also keep in mind that the only document which carries any legal weight is that contract drafted in French.
There are two main types of contract: the CDI, Contract Durée Indeterminée, (open-ended contract) and the CDD, Contract Durée Determinée (fixed-term contract), which has to be drawn up in the cases and under the conditions provided for by the law.
CDD (fixed-term contract)
The CDD may be used to replace an employee who is absent, to cover changes in business activity or for seasonal work (on farms, tourism etc). The maximum term of CDD contracts is, in principle, 18 months. In addition to his remuneration, the employee receives a bonus for insecurity of employment of 10 percent.
Temporary work contract
Other contracts that are governed by the same rules as the CDD is the temporary work contract, which is characterised by the relationship between:
- the temporary employment agency;
- the employee;
- the client using it.
Intermittent contract of employment
This is a contract signed with a company in a professional sector where business suffers genuine unforeseeable fluctuations throughout the year.
The senior CDD
This is for workers aged over 57 who want to acquire a sufficient number of years to be able to benefit from a retirement pension at the full rate (full pension).
Do note the minimum legal age for employment is 16. However, in some strictly regulated cases, the employment of young people under 16 is allowed in family businesses, during school holidays where minors under 14 (13 on farms) can be employed for carrying out light work, for apprenticeships, sandwich courses, in performance or modelling companies.
CDI (open-ended contract)
The French Code of Employment stipulates that some aspects have to be notified in writing to the employee and not necessarily be the subject of a contract:
- the identity of the parties
- the place of work
- the title, grade, nature or category of the work for which the employee is employed or a brief description thereof
- the date of commencement of the contract
- the amount of paid leave to which the employee is entitled or, failing that, the procedures for allocating and determining such leave
- the length of periods of notice
- information regarding the salary and the frequency of its payment
- working hours: daily or weekly
- the collective agreements governing the conditions of employment.
The French Code of Employment also stipulates that a document in writing is required for fixed-term contracts, apprenticeship contracts etc.
Youth Employment Contracts: Apprenticeshop and professional training
Special measures have been taken to help young people to enter the labour market:
- The apprenticeship contract is for 16–25 year olds who have completed their compulsory schooling and the purpose of which is to obtain a professional qualification. Length: three years. Remuneration: Depending on the age and year of apprenticeship, between 25 percent and 78 percent of the minimum wage.
- The professional training contract is intended for unqualified 16 to 25 year olds, or people aged 26 or over who need professional training. Length: 6 to 21 months – Remuneration: between 55 percent and 85 percent of the SMIC (minimum wage).
- The youth in work contract encourages the recruitment of poorly-qualified or unqualified young people by giving the employer a government grant for three years. This is a full-time or part-time CDI.
Employment for the disabled
Companies with more than 20 employees have the option of paying a contribution proportional to their staff numbers to the Agefiph (National association for the funding of the integration of disabled persons) or taking on 6 percent of disabled people among their staff.
The salary paid to the workers recognised as being disabled must correspond to the job that they are doing and to their qualifications, under general law conditions. The salary paid to them must not be reduced in any way.
In either case, all of your employment benefits should be included and clearly articulated in your contract.
As a salarié, your contract grants you certain rights and your employer will pay your charges sociales. You are then entitled to a variety of legal benefits including generous unemployment and health insurance. For the first three months of employment, employers have the right to annul your contract. However, you are entitled to all the benefits that a regular salarié would have.
Maternity leave is granted for all female employees, allowing six weeks before giving birth and ten weeks afterwards. With a third child, mothers are granted eight weeks before birth and 18 weeks afterwards. These rights are not negotiated and are the same no matter what your position. Fathers are granted 11 consecutive days paternity leave.
Changing terms of the contract of employment
A distinction should be made between “changes to the conditions of employment” which the employer can decide unilaterally (hours, dates of leave, etc.) and “amendment of the contract of employment” which requires the employee’s agreement and which relates to:
- the methods of remuneration or the amount thereof
- the working hours
- the place of work
- the employee’s job title,
- any other information considered necessary by the parties.
An exception to this would be if the employee has agreed to the change in advance, for example a mobility clause or non-completion clause. The employer must notify the employee of the change. Failure to respond on the part of the employee is taken as acquiescence.
Termination of a contract
The fixed-term contract (CDD) ends, in principle, when its term is up. The open-ended contract (CDI) can be terminated by the employer or the employee.
There are no formal requirements governing resignation, however it is preferable to send written notification by registered post with acknowledgement of receipt because the employee must give prior notice, unless it is a trial period.
There are three stages to the dismissal procedure for individuals:
- inviting the worker to a preliminary meeting to enable the parties to explain matters;
- notification of dismissal (between two working days and one month after the meeting);
- severance payments are made in line with the collective agreement, except in cases of dishonourable discharge.
Redundancy for economic reasons
This is the result of a job being ended or changed due to economic difficulties or technological changes. It is subject, under certain conditions, to an obligation to relocate workers and to set up an employment protection plan.
Termination at the end of a CDD
The CDD ends at the end of the contractual period. No prior notice need be given. An end-of-contract instability of work bonus of 10 percent of salary is due.
Termination by mutual consent
No specific procedure, but giving written notice is strongly advised.
Amicable termination is a type of termination by mutual consent. In order to be valid, the parties have to follow a procedure during which they discuss and sign a termination agreement which has to be approved by the Departmental Directorate for Labour, Employment and Vocational Training (DDTEFP) or by the labour inspectorate for protected employees (the staff representatives, the works doctor).
Settlement is not a form of termination of the contract of employment. It is a contract by which the parties prevent or end a dispute. It involves reciprocal concessions, but the employee cannot receive an amount in compensation that is less than the sums laid down contractually and legally.
The legal retirement age is 60. The employee can take his retirement between 60 and 70. From the age of 70, the employer can enforce his rights to retire the employee (as from 2011).
The retirement gratuity is equal to either the minimum legal redundancy pay (1/10 of the monthly wage per year of service; additional 1/15 of monthly wage per year of service beyond 10 years), or the retirement gratuity laid down in the collective agreement or the employment contract, whichever is more favourable.
It is famously difficult to fire an employee in France; the French worker is protected on all sides and it is always the employer who is looked upon with suspicion. All dismissals must follow very strict procedures and an employer must request a meeting (in writing) with the employee in question, and the employee has the right to have a co-worker or union rep present during the meeting. The dismissal itself must be executed with a written document which explains precisely the legal reasons for the firing.
If you are fired, you are entitled to severance pay, payment of time worked until your last day worked and any due holiday pay. Depending upon many factors, such as your position at the company, the reason for being fired, and the level of goodwill that exists between the two parties involved, the conditions can change dramatically. French labour law is more codified and complicated than you can imagine so if you suspect you're going to be fired, find a solicitor.