It is fair to say that fixed-term contracts are viewed differently in the UK and France.
In the UK, fixed-term contracts can be issued as and when required. The contracts themselves are not regulated, but employees are protected by the Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002. After four years of successive fixed-term contracts they are automatically treated as permanent employees, unless the continuous use of fixed-term contracts can be objectively justified.
In France however, fixed-term contracts – or contrat à durée déterminée (CDD), literally a contract of limited duration – are strictly regulated and only available in special cases. They include:
- replacing a temporarily absent employee,
- a temporary increase in business activity,
- seasonal jobs (such as tourism or agriculture).
Note the clear short-term and temporary nature of these examples: under no circumstances may a fixed-term contract be used to fill a long-term role. If such a role exists, the law requires that the employee hired to do it is given a permanent contract.
Délai de carence
Certain rules also govern the issue of a new fixed-term contract after the previous one has expired. The délai de carence is a waiting period between two fixed-term contracts for the same role, filled by the same employee.
The length of the délai de carence varies: if the original contract ran for less than 14 days, the waiting period is half of the contract’s duration. More than 14 days, and the waiting period becomes one-third of the contract’s duration.
It is possible to issue successive fixed-term contracts for the same employee without a délai de carence, but the circumstances under which companies can do this are severely restricted. They include replacing an employee who is absent, or whose contract of employment has been suspended. They also include roles which are known to be temporary by nature, such as the ‘saisonniers’ who work in French ski resorts during the winter season.
Prime de précarité
Fixed-term contracts may also include a payment made at the end of the contract term. Known as a prime de précarité,it amounts to10% of the total pay across the contract’s duration, and is intended as compensation for the precariousness of a temporary contract.
What are the particulars of French fixed-term contracts?
A CDD must be issued in written form, whether full or part-time. It is worth noting that an employee who does not have a contract is considered to be a permanent full-time employee by default.
Normal contractual obligations then apply. Contract terms may not be changed without prior agreement from the employee (refusal cannot lead to dismissal), minimum wage conditions must be adhered to, and the employer’s absolute contractual duty to protect their employees’ safety – including protection against harassment and discrimination – remains.
A fixed-term contract necessarily lasts for a limited period, which must be specified at the outset. The contract will therefore end on a specified date, or when the purpose it was created for is achieved, such as the end of the season, or the return of the absent employee it covered. The total duration, including any renewals, must not exceed the maximum authorised limit.
Can a French fixed-term contract be terminated before its expiry date?
A CDD may be terminated before its expiry date, but only under the following circumstances:
- by mutual agreement between the employer and employee,
- if the employee can prove that they have been taken on under a permanent contract,
- if the company doctor has certified that the employee cannot work,
- if the employer or employee has committed an offence classed as serious misconduct,
- force majeure.
For further information about employing people in France, whether on fixed-term or permanent contracts, please contact our qualified team of bilingual consultants. We have valued clients on both sides of the Channel, and are very happy to arrange a free initial consultation to discuss our HR services in further detail.