Sources of French employment law

Please note that the information herein is of a general nature and you should not act or refrain from acting on it without professional advice on the specific facts of your case. No liability is accepted by the author or Sykes Anderson Perry Limited in respect of this article. Employment law is a complex subject and the above is a basic outline only and is intended only as a general guide. Nothing herein constitutes financial advice.

French employment law is governed by the principle of hierarchy of the rules “hiérarchie des normes”. Each source of law as listed below overrides every source of law below it.

The terms contained in the contract of employment are at the bottom i.e. overridden by everything else. This approach is different for people trained in English employment law where the starting point is usually the employment contract.

Collective agreements are widespread and important. Before employing or dismissing anyone in France employers must ascertain what collective agreements apply – usually one will apply. The key point is that the contract of employment is of less importance and in most cases can only give the employee additional rights.

Sources of French employment law in order of importance.

  1. The French Constitution: It expresses fundamental principles such as non-discrimination.

  2. Laws and administrative acts: They are found in the French Labour Code (Code du Travail) and the French Social Security Code.

  3. French case law: The most important are the ones of the Council of State “Conseil d’Etat”, the Court of Cassation “Cour de cassation” and the Constitutional Council “Conseil constitutionnel”.

  4. Collective conventions: They contain specific employment law rules and deal with several labour subjects. They are entered into by the representative trades unions of the employees and groupings of employers or a single employer. As an example there is a convention relating to the banking industry dated 10 January 2000. This confers extra rights on bank employees and also gives them extra procedural protection in the event of the employer starting the dismissal process.

  5. Collective agreements: They contain specific labour law rules but deal with only one employment aspect.

    - national agreements: They cover the whole of France,

    - branch agreements: They cover only one sector (for example the banking sector). “Branch” is a misnomer here,

    - company agreement: It only covers the company which concluded it.

  6. Use: Unwritten rules arising from a constant and repeated practice.

  7. Internal regulation: This is a document drafted only by the employer which has rules exclusively relative to hygiene, security and discipline in the workplace.

  8. Employment contract: the contractual agreement between the employer and employee.

March 2018
David Anderson
Solicitor-Advocate and Chartered Tax Adviser