I’m starting an SME in France. What are my HR obligations?

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UK employers who want to expand their operations into France can find it hard to navigate the issue of employing people in two very different countries.

However, learning the fundamentals in both can lead to a smoother experience with fewer problems.  Understanding HR obligations is an excellent place to start, as these form the foundation of the employer/employee relationship.

The following is a summary of HR obligations in France, all of which apply to SMEs of any size and scope.

Recruitment in France

UK companies who mostly rely on recruitment agencies will likely have to change their strategy in France, where hiring employees is a more direct process.

The procedure itself follows similar lines.  Discrimination protection (for age, race, and sexual orientation, for example) is largely the same, except in France such protection extends to other factors, including candidates’ political opinions, union membership, and where they live. 

At interview, employers must not ask questions related to a candidate’s personal circumstances, such as their state of health, religious views, or whether or not they have children. 

While copies of educational certificates and driving licences can be readily requested, background checks for French applicants are restricted.  Medical and criminal record checks can only be carried out if the information is specifically required for the role and has a law or regulation applicable to the role that requires it.

Employee orientation

Employers must submit a Déclaration Préalable à l’Embauche – or pre-employment declaration – within eight days before a new employee starts work.  They must then set up and maintain a personnel register for each business location.

A medical information and risk-prevention check-up for each new employee must be organised for each employee, within three months of their start date.  The company must have an ongoing contract with an occupational health (OH) provider in order to comply with this obligation.  Employers should also work with their OH provider to meet their absolute contractual duty to protect employees’ safety.

What about a probationary period?  These are not compulsory, but may be imposed if the contract of employment allows.  The duration – usually two months for employees and four for executives – is set by law.  Probation can be renewed just once, as long as this is also stated in the contract and convention collective.

The contract of employment

Written contracts are compulsory for part-time and fixed-term contracts.  Note that company collective agreements may override contractual conditions set out in various legislation, such as the French labour law or collective bargaining agreements, if the conditions are more favourable.

Since contract terms cannot be changed without prior agreement from the employee, employers may wish to avoid overly-detailed job descriptions so as to reduce the amount of potential changes required.

For companies looking to recruit staff on a fixed-term basis, it is worth considering that fixed-term contracts are regulated and only available under certain circumstances, such as a temporary increase in business activity or for a seasonal role.  It is prohibited to keep an employee on successive fixed-term contracts, and various conditions apply.

Payment and bonuses

All employees are entitled to the French minimum wage once they reach 18. Conventions Collectives also contain minimum salary levels per level of employee which can be more beneficial to the employee than the National Minimum Wage (SMIC).  Meanwhile, bonuses are usually contractual rather than discretionary.  The latter tends to be avoided so the payments do not become a custom.

Termination of employment

The legal dismissal procedure must be fully adhered to. 

The legal dismissal procedure can be summarised as having real and serious grounds for dismissal, followed by a hearing to clarify the facts.  The employee may be accompanied by a colleague or employee adviser. 

(Care must be taken when inviting the employee to the hearing: employers who forget to include this information in their letter may inadvertently void the entire process!)

Note that some employees have certain protections against dismissal: they include pregnant women, those on work-related sick leave, and employee representatives. For protected employees, the employer must consult the Social and Economic Committee (CSE) and also obtain authorisation from the Work Inspector before terminating employment.

Dismissal compensation must be paid in cases of simple misconduct, while employees who are deemed to have committed serious or gross misconduct are entitled to unused paid leave only.

In all cases of termination, the end of contract documentation must be issued by the employer without unreasonable delay.

For further information about employing people in France, and how HR regulations compare with those in the UK, please contact our qualified team.

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