What you need to know before hiring in France: A guide to terminations

Published

May 10, 2023

Terminating an employee likely isn’t on your mind when you’re making your first hire in France. But, if a situation arises where you need to let a French employee go, you’ll need to know about France’s policies on termination and clearly adhere to the employment contract you and the employee signed.

The French are known for having a strict code that protects employees, especially against hasty dismissals made without reason. If you don’t adhere to the French legal code when letting someone go, you could be subject to wrongful dismissal claims in French court.

Read on to learn everything you need to know before hiring French employees—and how hiring through an Employer of Record (EOR) can spare you from having to deal with legal headaches.

6 essential things to know before hiring in France

  • There are three categories of justifiable reasons an employee can be dismissed. French employment law is extremely specific about the reasons an employer can terminate an employee, and there are only three categories of justifiable reasons for dismissal. We’ll discuss them in greater detail in the next section. Additionally, you need to make sure you know the employment contract backwards and forwards, before they begin working with you. One of its clauses will concern the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, which governs things like severance pay.
    • You must summon an employee for an interview before dismissal. Before you can dismiss an employee, you must hold a preliminary interview where you’ll explain why you intend on terminating their employment. They’ll then have the chance to explain themselves and rebut your decision if they so choose.
      • There are certain timelines you must adhere to when summoning an employee for an interview. The summons must be made in the form of a letter—either a paper one delivered to the employee or an official company email—and it must be sent within two months of the incident that prompted the dismissal. The interview date must be at least five days after the employee has received the summons, and the letter should make it clear that the employee has the right to have a representative with them at the interview.
        • French laws don’t recognize at-will employment. In France, you can’t simply dismiss an employee without reason. In fact, the French labor code makes it extremely clear that it considers termination to be an absolute last resort, especially in cases of voluntary or involuntary personal grounds for dismissal. Instead, it encourages employers to try to find other ways to resolve the problem. For example, let’s say the employee in question is having serious interpersonal issues with their manager or a coworker. You can only dismiss them after you’ve tried everything else, such as holding a meeting in which you talk to the two of them and try to find a solution, or by putting them on different projects so they don’t have to work together directly. If the company is putting technological changes in place to increase its competitiveness, before you can start the dismissal procedure, you must demonstrate you tried another course of action, such as redeployment or employee training.
          • Everything must be documented. This is extremely important: You must document evidence of all events and/or incidents that led to the dismissal of the employee, even if the reasons have nothing to do with their conduct specifically. You’ll use this evidence both during the interview when you’re telling the employee why they’re being dismissed and should also keep it in case the employee decides to bring a lawsuit against your company.
            • You may need to get the French authorities involved. Particularly if you’re planning to terminate numerous employees because their roles are redundant, you’ll need the approval of the local French works council before you can proceed. The same applies if you’re terminating a “protected employee,” such as a person who’s a trade union delegate or someone who has a medical note from a doctor that shows they’re physically incapable of performing their job.

              Termination rules in France: What are acceptable grounds for firing an employee?

              While French employees can leave their jobs for any reason, so long as they provide the amount of notice agreed upon in the employment contract, the same is not true for a company planning to dismiss an employee. The French labor code, coupled with CBAs, provides strong protections for workers and recognizes only three categories for dismissal. They are as follows:

              • Voluntary personal grounds. Voluntary personal grounds include misconduct issues the employee is directly responsible for. They can range from continuous and unreasonable absenteeism to more serious gross misconduct issues, like harassing other employees in the workplace or even intending to harm the company itself.
                • Involuntary personal grounds. This category includes issues like the employee being unable to perform the basic duties of their position, repeatedly failing to achieve results that should be reasonably expected and are necessary for the company’s success, or conflicts with coworkers in which all attempts to resolve the problem in other ways have been exhausted.
                  • Economic grounds. This category covers issues that have to do with the company itself—such as things causing economic difficulties—and having nothing to do with the employee’s actions. For instance, if the company is going bankrupt, reorganizing itself, or introducing new technology that replaces the need for a human in that particular role, the employee can be terminated. However, you’ll need authorization from the local works council first.

                    In all cases, you need to have documented evidence to present to both the employees and the proper authorities and follow all the local laws. Many of the latter may differ from the laws of your own country, which is why it’s crucial to keep your global hiring compliant.

                    What are the mandatory notice periods and termination pay for French employees?

                    As you can see, the termination process in France is complex, and the collective bargaining agreements an employee has in place with your company may affect the amount of money they receive in their severance package and how much notice they have to be given. The terms of the collective bargaining agreement will be made clear in the initial employment contract you and the employee signed.
                    You’ll lay out the terms of their termination pay and the official reasons you’ve decided to dismiss the employee in writing what’s called a pre-dismissal letter. This has to be sent by registered mail so the employee can acknowledge receiving it. As mentioned, although collective bargaining agreements will affect both the termination period and the severance package, the general notice periods French employees receive are based on their length of service:

                    • One month’s notice for employees who have been with the company between six months and two years
                      • Two months’ notice for employees who have been working with the company for more than two years
                        • Three months’ notice for anyone who’s in an executive-level role

                          The laws surrounding severance pay are a little murkier, particularly because collective bargaining agreements often ensure termination pay is at least a little higher than the minimums. The statutory minimum severance pay for an employee is calculated based on whichever salary is higher: Either the amount they received during the first three months of employment or the amount they received during the first 12 months of employment. And, if a collective bargaining agreement is in place, the employer must take those terms into account as well and select the number that’s most advantageous to the employee in question.

                          The easiest way to comply with French termination requirements

                          If you employ a global workforce, keeping track of termination requirements gets complicated. Without any assistance, employers need to master conflicting just-cause considerations, probationary and notice periods, and severance pay laws that vary both within and among countries.

                          An alternative is to hire through an EOR, which can monitor termination requirements for you. Rippling, for instance, will localize employment agreements on your company’s behalf.

                          Rippling ensures contracts adhere to termination requirements for all of your French employees—regardless of whether you’ve set up your own local entity. It also automatically enrolls your new hire in statutory benefits, while allowing you to manage payroll for your entire international workforce.

                          Frequently asked questions about terminating employees in France

                          Do you need a reason to terminate an employee in France?

                          The answer is a resounding yes. France not only doesn’t recognize at-will employment, but French employment laws and CBAs are very protective of employees and only allows them to be terminated for extremely specific reasons. Not only do you need written evidence that supports your decision, but you must also first have tried to resolve the issue via other means.

                          What is considered just cause for terminating an employee in France?

                          In France, there are categories of reasons that constitute justifiable termination. These include:

                          • Voluntary personal reasons (ex. Workplace violence, continuously making mistakes out of sheer carelessness, or harassing another employee)
                            • Involuntary personal reasons (ex. Being incapable of performing the duties necessary for the role through no fault of the employee’s part or being unable to achieve the results necessary to be successful in the role—again, through no fault of the employee)
                              • Economic reasons (ex. The company is having serious economic difficulties and can no longer keep the employee on the payroll)

                                You should make the terms of employment—including dismissal—clear in the employment contract you sign with the employee.
                                Additionally, French laws encourage employers to try other methods before terminating an employee. For instance, if the worker is having trouble performing the responsibilities associated with their role, extra training might help bring them up to speed. If they’re making insulting comments in the workplace, you may want to send them a written warning or bring them into a meeting where you discuss the problem first. If the company is having economic difficulties, you may try redeployment. If solutions like these don’t work, it’s time to fire the employee.

                                What qualifies as wrongful dismissal in France?

                                In France, wrongful dismissal is when an employee is terminated without any evidence or notice and for reasons other than those that fall under the three categories discussed previously in this guide. Additionally, you cannot dismiss an employee who falls under certain protected categories, such as a woman who is on maternity leave.

                                Employees who think they’ve been wrongfully dismissed can appeal to the works council and find their own legal representative to take action against the company.

                                What is always required when an employer terminates an employee in France?

                                After you’ve decided to dismiss the employee, French labor laws require you to send them a dismissal letter notifying them of your decision by registered mail. If they so choose, they have the right to appeal this decision with an employment tribunal. Once this is done, you must do the following:

                                • Give the employee certificates of employment and for the State Unemployment Fund so they can apply for unemployment insurance. You must also send a copy of the dismissal certificate to the State Unemployment Fund for the employee to obtain their unemployment benefits.
                                  • Give the worker their last payslip.
                                    • Provide them with the balance of paid time off, employee savings plans, and anything else outstanding.

                                      Remember: In France, you must document the reason for dismissal for your own records and include it in the dismissal letter you send to the employee.

                                      What is the law for dismissing a contractor in France?

                                      Although independent contractors in France do not receive the same protections employees do, employers still can’t just dismiss them out of turn.
                                      Generally, in France, independent contractors have a fixed-term contract with an employer. If the latter chooses to end it early, they must provide 24-48 hours’ notice and pay the contractor for the time that was left in the contract.

                                      If an independent contractor is found to be misclassified under French labor laws, they may be entitled to employment standards legislation protections and notice or termination pay in lieu of notice.

                                      What are layoffs in France?

                                      In France, layoffs are called “mass redundancies” or “collective dismissal,” and if an employer is laying off 10 or more people in a company that has 50 or more employees, the works council must be consulted. A works council is a sort of union that protects employees from things like unfair dismissals, and employers are required to meet with them twice in the case of layoffs. The employer must also present a plan to the works council showing how they’ll help the dismissed employees find new work. This could be through training or redeployment. If the works council isn’t satisfied with the plan, the employer will have to draw it up again.

                                      Manage the entire lifecycle of your international employees with Rippling

                                      From onboarding to offboarding, Rippling helps you streamline the entire employee lifecycle—globally, and all in one place.

                                      Just click "hire" and Rippling can support your global workforce right out of the box:

                                      • Set up a localized French employment agreement.
                                        • Pay employees and contractors in France and around the world—without waiting for bank transfers or conversions.
                                          • Easily stay compliant with French overtime, leave, and termination requirements.

                                            Catch Rippling in action and learn how Rippling EOR can monitor the tangled web of global termination requirements—so you don’t have to.

                                            Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

                                            last edited: February 16, 2024

                                            The Author

                                            Carrie Stemke

                                            A freelance writer and editor based in New York City, Carrie writes about HR trends and global workforce management and is the Rippling content team’s expert on hiring know-how in Western Europe.

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