Though certain sanctions may differ, what constitutes a disciplinary offence at work is much the same in France as it is in the UK.
Examples include failure or refusal to comply with a reasonable employer request, threatening behaviour in the workplace, negligence, and any act of harassment committed by an employee.
In France, there are a number of different sanctions that can be imposed by an employer as a result of such behaviour. These sanctions range in severity, with dismissal being the ultimate consequence. Generally, all outcomes are formally recorded in the employee’s personnel file.
There are two particularly important points to note regarding French disciplinary sanctions.
One: a verbal comment or warning is not considered a formal sanction. Two: the popular myth that an employee must have received three written warnings before dismissal is false. Depending on the offence committed, they can be dismissed immediately.
Below are listed the types of disciplinary sanction a French employer may impose.
Warning or reprimand
As previously observed, a verbal reprimand is not considered part of the employer’s disciplinary process. Instead, the warning is addressed directly to the employee in writing via recorded delivery letter or delivered by hand (it must be dated and signed by the employee).
Two forms of employee suspension may be considered. One is known as the mise à pied disciplinaire: a definitive sanction under which the employee’s contract is suspended and payment withheld. This type of suspension can last for a maximum of six days, if permitted by the company’s règlement intérieur.
The second form of suspension is the mise à pied conservatoire. This is not a sanction, but a way of affording time for the employer to investigate a serious offence and prevent it from escalating further, pending a final disciplinary outcome. Again, the employee’s pay is suspended throughout, though if they are reinstated they must be repaid for the entire suspension period.
Depending on the seriousness of the disciplinary offence, the employer may decide to impose a change of assignment, or even a new work location, for the employee.
One of the most severe sanctions that can be applied, a transfer generates a formal amendment to the employee’s contract of employment. In some cases, the employee will be asked to agree to the contractual amendment, with refusal leading to dismissal.
Demotion involves the downgrading of the employee’s position within the company. As with transfers above, this is an extremely serious sanction which also involves a contractual amendment.
Dismissal is the final sanction, which can be imposed in cases of simple, serious, or gross misconduct. The misconduct classification is decided by the employer, which also impacts the termination payment made to the employee as follows:
Simple misconduct allows full payment, which includes compensation for dismissal and unused paid leave entitlement, and payment of notice. The compensation for dismissal is calculated according to the terms set out by the convention collective or labour law (whichever is most favourable to the employee) in relation to the employee’s length of service, status within the organisation and often, their age.
Serious misconduct allows payment for unused paid leave entitlement only. As the classification suggests, it is a harsh sanction that must be used with caution, due to an increased risk of the employer being challenged in court. Examples of serious misconduct may include violence, harassment, theft, or drunkenness at work.
Gross misconduct allows the same payment terms as serious misconduct. However, if this classification is used it implies that the employee actively intended to harm the company and/or the employer.
The employer must be able to prove malicious intent; particularly since the employee can also be sued for inflicting certain forms of damage. These could include physical damage to equipment, violence or death threats, or damage to the business caused by diversion of customers to a competitor, or disclosure of confidential information.
How do French disciplinary sanctions differ from those in the UK?
Businesses with operations in both the UK and France should note that certain French disciplinary sanctions, such as the mise à pied disciplinaire, do not exist in the UK. Moreover, in the UK gross misconduct carries the same classification as serious misconduct in France; where gross misconduct is a higher step that involves provable malicious intent.
Do you have questions, or would like specific assistance regarding employment law issues and how they differ in the UK and France? You can book a free consultation with a bilingual Viridian HR consultant here.