French Employment Law: Health and Safety at Work

Article L4121-1 of the French Labour Code states: “The employer shall take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and protect the physical and mental health of workers.”

Such measures are based on nine key principles, which govern the protective and preventive steps that every French employer must legally take.  Broadly, these principles are:

  • Avoiding risks
  • Assessing risks
  • Tackling risks at source
  • Adapting work to people
  • Keeping pace with technical developments
  • Replacing what is dangerous with what is less so
  • Planning prevention
  • Giving priority to collective prevention measures
  • Giving appropriate instructions to employees

The principles form part of a wider corporate social responsibility-focused approach that aims to reduce the risk of occupational accidents and illnesses, whilst limiting their human, social, and economic consequences.

This approach is taken extremely seriously in France.  As an example, some taxation is deducted from companies’ payroll in direct relation to the number of workplace accidents and their severity.

The obligations French employers must adhere to include the provision of information and training.

Specifically, information and training must be provided to new recruits, employees changing roles, and temporary workers.  Yet all employees must be given the resources needed to adapt to their roles and perform their duties in a safe working environment. 

Employers must also ensure that employees’ ability to do their jobs at the required standard is maintained, particularly in regard to organisational and technological changes.  As such, employees must be able to effectively assume a new role in the event of redeployment within the company.

Training that relates to these employer obligations is compulsory, performed during working hours and paid as such. 

The provision of information and training is reinforced by an overarching obligation to achieve results (obligation de résultat).

This means the employer must not only reduce the potential for health and safety risks in their workplace, but actively prevent accidents from occurring.

Should an accident happen, the potential penalties are severe.  The employer must pay financial compensation for prejudice for inexcusable fault, if they cannot demonstrate that they have taken sufficient measures to protect their employees from an accident at work and/or an occupational illness.  This could also lead to a criminal conviction.

Furthermore, the very act of having put an employee in danger – even if this did not result in an accident or illness – could lead to said employee seeking a judicial termination of their employment contract, on the grounds that the employer has breached their obligation de résultat to ensure safety.

Should the employee prove successful in court, not only will their contract be so terminated, but the dismissal will be considered unlawful, which allows them to be compensated accordingly.

In conclusion, our advice to business owners in France is to take workplace health and safety obligations extremely seriously.

If you would like further guidance, we would be very happy to assist.  Please contact us for more information about our services and to arrange your free initial consultation.

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