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Key Employment Rights: France v. UK

Please note that all the circumstances of the individuals must be considered and certain circumstances can affect the individual’s employment rights. For this reason, you should not rely on this article without professional advice on the facts of your case.The table below shows a side by side comparison of some of the key employment rights that exist in France and UK.





Relevant legislation

French Labour Code - Code du Travail

Employment Rights Act 1996

Période d’essai / Probation period

The probation period is legally provided for (article L. 1221-19 of the French Labour Code):

  • 2 months for workers and employees,
  • 2 months for technicians and supervisor,
  • 4 months for executives.

This probation period may be renewed for the same period if such a possibility is provided for in the employment contract and in the extended branch collective agreement.

A positive derogation may be made in the collective agreement (specific rules apply depending on whether the collective agreement was signed before or after June 26th 2008).

There is no set probationary period in the UK. However, the standard practice is between 3 and 6 months.

It is possible to renew the probationary period indefinite times but it is not advisable to extend it for a period in excess of 24 months as this would affect the ability on the employer to dismiss the employee (see below) and could affect the notice period.

Obtention des droits légaux / Time to get statutory rights

The concept of “statutory rights” does not exist in French labour law.

Under French law, distinction must be made according to whether the employee is still in probation period or not.

If the employee is still in probation period, the employer can terminate the contract at any time, unless if the reason for the termination is discriminatory

If the employee is no longer in probation period, the employer may terminate the contract only if he can prove that there is a valid reason for dismissal (described below).

The minimum notice periods listed below can be longer under the applicable collective bargaining agreement.

  • Employees with over six months’ service but less than two years' service are entitled to one month notice.

  • Employees with two or more years' service are entitled to two months' notice.

An employee dismissed during the probationary period will usually only be entitled to one week’s notice. Similarly, the employee could resign with one week’s notice.

After the probationary period, both the employer and employee would have longer statutory notice periods:

  • An employee who has been employed for more than one month but less than two years is entitled to at least one week's notice of termination.

  • Where the employee has been employed for more than two years but less than 12 years, they are entitled to one week's statutory notice for each year of continuous employment.

Generally, an employee is only entitled to bring an unfair dismissal claim if he or she has more than 2 years of service with the employer. Prior to that an employer may dismiss without cause.

There are certain claims an employee could have and bring without the 2 years’ service and this includes discrimination claims.


Motifs valables de licenciement / Reasons for valid dismissal

 A valid reason for dismissal may be personal or economic.


The employee may or may not have committed a fault.

·         Absence of fault

  • Professional inadequacy (capability),
  • Unsatisfactory results (competency - if this is the result of professional inadequacy or misconduct),
  • objective disorder caused to the proper functioning of the company (frustration, personality issues).

·         Fault (misconduct)

  • Simple offence,
  • Serious offence,
  • Gross misconduct.

Economic (redundancy)

  • Financial difficulties,
  • Technological change,
  • Company restructuring in order to safeguard competitiveness,
  • Closure of business

From September 2017 and under certain conditions an employee can be dismissed if he refuses to apply a collective competitiveness agreement.

Once the “reason” for dismissal is established, the employer will need to follow a fair and reasonable procedure to effect the dismissal. Failing to do so would result in the employee being entitled to 1 month salary (due to recent changes to the law).  


There are five potentially fair reasons for dismissal under section 98 of Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996):

  • capability or qualifications;

  • conduct;

  • redundancy;

  • breach of a statutory duty or restriction; and

  • "some other substantial reason" (SOSR).

Once the employer has established a potentially fair reason for the dismissal under section 98(1) of ERA 1996, it must then act reasonably in dismissing the employee for that reason, i.e. it must follow a fair dismissal procedure.

Indemnisation licenciement injustifié / Compensation unfair dismissal

The dismissal will be without real and serious cause (licenciement sans cause réelle et sérieuse) if the employer does not comply with one of the justifications presented above.

The dismissal will be null and void (licenciement nul) if the employer violates a fundamental freedom or if he fails to comply with certain provisions in the French Labour Code which provide for null and void as a sanction (protection of certain employees, sexual or moral harassment, non-discrimination, non-compliant redundancy plan etc.).

Dismissal without real and serious cause (dismissal from 9/24/2017)

The minimum and maximum amounts of compensation are determined according to the employee's length of service, the size of the company and the salary. (article L. 1235-3 of the French Labour Code). The maximum compensation is 20 months salary gross. This maximum does not apply any dismissal that are “null and void”.

Dismissal null and void

The employee has the right to be reinstated in his job or, failing that, in an equivalent job. If one of the party refuses, the employee is entitled to an indemnity which may not be less than the wages of the last 6 months.

Failing to do either establishing a potentially fair reason and following a fair procedure will usually result in the employee being successful in bringing an unfair dismissal claim.

A claim for unfair dismissal must be presented within a period of three months starting with the effective date of termination (EDT) (section 111(2), ERA 1996).

If dismissal is held to be unfair then it is possible for the employee to request a reinstatement. However, this is very unusual as the relationship and trust between an employer and employee in these circumstances would have been irreparably damaged.

In most cases, where an employee has been held to have been unfairly dismissed, their remedy will be compensation. This will usually consist of a basic award and a compensatory award.

The basic award considers the age, length of service and the amount of a week's pay (subject to a statutory cap of £508). The compensatory award is such amount as the tribunal believes is just and equitable based on the financial loss caused to the employee by the unfair dismissal. The maximum compensatory award is the lower of 52 weeks' pay or £83,682


Licenciement économique / Redundancy

Redundancy means:

  • Financial difficulties,
  • Technological change,
  • Company restructuring in order to safeguard competitiveness,
  • Closure of business

An employee with more than 8 months service but less than 10 years will receive a redundancy payment equal to ¼ of his monthly salary for every completed year of service.

Employees with more than 10 years’ service will receive an additional redundancy payment equal to 1/3 of his monthly salary for every completed year of service.

Redundancy means:

  • Business closure

  • Workplace closure (closure of one of several sites, or relocation to a new site)

  • Diminished requirements of the business for employees to do work of a particular kind.

Employees with 2 years or more service is entitled to a statutory redundancy pay.

The statutory redundancy pay is calculated according to the length of service and age. The weekly pay is capped at £508 and accordingly, the maximum statutory redundancy pay is £15,240.











Protection spéciale de certains travailleurs contre le licenciement / Special protection of some workers against dismissal

The French Labour Code contains numerous provisions allowing certain employees to be protected against dismissal, including:

  • Work related accident or professional disease

The employer may not, except in special cases, terminate the contract during this period.

  • Pregnant employees

Protection against dismissal during the period of suspension of the employment contract and 10 weeks after this period unless there is a serious misconduct or impossibility of maintaining the contractual relationship.

  • Union representatives

Protection against dismissal, except in special cases, during the term of office and for 12 months after the end of the term.

  • Employee representatives

Protection against dismissal, except in special cases, during the term of office and for 6 months after the end of the term.

There are a number of unfair dismissals claims where an employee does not need to have any minimum qualifying period of service and in certain circumstances would be deemed an “automatic unfair dismissal”. Below are some examples (the list is not exhaustive).

  • If the reason for dismissal “is, or relates to, the employee’s political opinions or affiliation” the employee will be entitled to bring a claim without the 2 years’ service. However, it does not make the dismissal automatically unfair.

Automatic unfair dismissals which does not require the 2 years’ service are dismissal:

  • connected with pregnancy, childbirth or any parental leave (maternity etc);

  • for a health and safety reason;

  • in connection with an application for flexible working;

  •  in connection with trade union recognition;

  •  for trade union membership or participation in trade union activities;

  • for taking part in protected industrial action.

Automatic unfair dismissal which requires the 2 years’ service are dismissal:

  • where the sole or principle reason is connected to a transfer of business or services (TUPE) unless an economic, technical or organisational (ETO) reason can be established by

  • reason of retirement.


Frais d’expatriation / Relocation Expenses (does not cover secondments or detachement)


Relocation expenses up to a maximum of £8,000 per move may be paid by the employer without it being subject to the usual income tax and national insurance contributions. Payments in excess £8,000 will be taxed in the usual ways.

It may be possible to structure the relocation costs as being costs incurred by a French employer for its French employees.

Congés / Holidays

Employees are entitled to a minimum of five weeks' paid holiday a year, in addition to public holidays. There are approximately 10 public holidays. This potentially means a total of 35 days holiday.

Under French Law, if a bank holiday falling on a week end or a non-work day, the bank holiday is lost (article L. 3122-2 of the French Labour Code) and does not allow the employees to receive a specific allowance, unless more favourable treaty provisions are in place.


Employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday a year inclusive of public holidays. There are 8 public holidays. This means a total of 28 days.

If a public holiday falls on a weekend then the employee receives a holiday in lieu so it is not lost to the employee.

Indemnités en cas d’arrêt de travail / Sick Pay

There are 2 elements:

A base allowance –

Non-related work absences: This is paid by the state insurance (assurance maladie) generally half of the employees’ daily wage (Article L. 323-4 of the French Social Security Code) and this paid for a maximum of 3 years (article R. 323-1 of the French Social Security Code) if the sickness absence is not work related (e.g. common cold).

Related work absences: If it is work related sickness absence then the state insurance will pay daily allowances equal to half of the employee’s salary until complete recovery (article L. 433-1 al 2 of the French Social Security Code)

Complementary allowance –

The complementary allowance is equal to (article D. 1226-1 of the French Labour Code):

  • 90 % of the employee’s gross salary for the first 30 days,
  • 2/3 of the employee’s gross salary for the following 30 days.

A sick employee cannot be dismissed unless the employee needs to be replaced with another employee under an indefinite term contract. It is also possible to dismiss after a long period of absence.


There is no statutory right to receive full pay for time spent away from work by reason of sickness. Eligible employees may however be entitled to receive up to 28 weeks statutory sick pay (SSP). SSP is capped at £92.95 per week.

Certain companies also provide for contractual sick pay and this tends to be full pay for a limited period.

It is possible to dismiss an employee on sick leave but care must be had to avoid a discrimination claim.

Dépenses du salarié / Expenses

Travel expense – A French employer must pay ½ of the employee’s cost of public transport to and from work (article L. 3261-2 of the French Labour Code).

Restaurant vouchers – An employer must set up a canteen serving hot food. However, where this is not observed, the French High Court will accept the employer providing restaurant vouchers.

Both employer and employees will pay a share of the restaurant vouchers.

There are no such statutory benefits. Any benefits of this kind would be taxable and at the discretion of the employer.

Durée du travail / Working Time

The French Working Time regulations provide for a maximum working week of 35 hours. However, it is possible for an employee to work more than 35 hours a week provided that any hours in excess of the 35 hours limit is paid as overtime.

Additional hours can be worked under a further limit:

  • an employee cannot work more than 48 hours a week (appreciated over 7 consecutive days),
  • The average weekly work hours calculated over a 12 consecutive weeks period may not exceed 44 hours.  

The overtime rates are prescribed (unless more favourable treaty provisions):

  • 36 to 43 hours inclusive: the hourly wage should be increased by 25%
  • 44 or more hours: the hourly wage should be increased by 50%

Senior executives and other professionals (e.g. lawyers) are not subject to the French working time regulations.


In general, an employer’s main obligations under the Working Time Regulation 1998 is to take reasonable steps to ensure that each worker’s average working time does not exceed 48 hours per week (including overtime). The average working time is calculated over a period of 17 weeks. This means, a worker could still work more than 48 hours in one week!

It is possible for certain workers to opt out of this restriction. Junior workers may not.

Failure by an employer to observe this is a criminal offence punishable with a potentially unlimited fine.

Clauses restrictives / Restrictive Covenants

It is possible to include restrictive covenants in a contract of employment in France. However, there are certain conditions that need to be satisfied for the covenants to be valid. For example, a non-compete covenant must provide for a post-termination compensation in proportion to the restriction set. French Courts have suggested one third of the employee’s last salary would be an appropriate monthly compensation.

Provided that the restrictive covenant is aimed to protect a legitimate proprietary interest of the employer for which the restraint is reasonably necessary, it will be valid. The actual restriction, the period of the restriction and the geographical scope must be reasonable.

Enforcing the terms of a restrictive covenant can be difficult and expensive.

There is no requirement for the employer to pay any additional compensation to the employee for restricting their freedom to work and earn.




Given that most of employment law derives from European legislation, one would have presumed that the law would not differ as much. However, the table above suggests otherwise. If you are looking to move to either of these jurisdictions it is prudent to obtain legal advice on the relevant law. Failing to do so could be very expensive.