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France: The Right to Rest & Compensation – Exception to the Necessary Harm Principle 

French labor law has traditionally operated under the principle of “necessary harm” (nécessité d’entreprise). This principle allows employers to impose certain constraints on employees, provided these constraints are justified and necessary for the proper functioning of the business. However, recent court decisions have established the right to rest as a powerful exception to this principle, offering greater employee protection and solidifying rest as a fundamental right.

The Necessary Harm Principle and Employee Rest Rights

Article L3131-1 of the French Labor Code guarantees employees at least 11 consecutive hours of daily rest. 

Exceptions to this requirement allow for shorter rest periods under certain circumstances (essential services, split shifts) through agreements between companies and employees or specific industries. Additionally, Article L3131-3 permits waivers of the daily rest period in rare cases of unexpected surges in workload, subject to the employee’s approval of such waiver.

The Right to Rest as a New Exception

Two recent cases from the French Court of Cassation (Cour de Cassation) have established the right to rest as a new exception to the necessary harm principle. These cases demonstrate a significant shift in French labor law, prioritizing employee well-being and ensuring sufficient rest for a healthy work environment.

Facts of the Case 1: Cass. Soc. No. 21-22.809 (February 7, 2024)

The employee of “Maîtres Chiens, télé-surveillance parisiens” (Parisian Dog Masters, Remote Surveillance)filed a claim for damages with the industrial tribunal for the employer’s failure to fulfill its safety obligation and that non-compliance with these rest periods necessarily generates harm. The employer repeatedly violated a collective agreement that mandated a minimum of 12 hours of rest between work shifts. The alleged violation occurred over several years.

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the employee’s claim for compensation.  The Court did not contest the employee’s assertion of the employer’s non-compliance with mandatory rest periods.  However, the appeal was denied, on the basis that the employee failed to establish a causal link between the alleged violation and any resulting injury.  In light of this reasoning, the employee has filed a cassation appeal, seeking a reversal of the Court of Appeal’s decision.

The main issues which were raised in the Court of Cassations were as follows – 

  • Did the employer violate the employee’s right to rest as outlined in the collective agreement?
  • Was the employee entitled to compensation for the employer’s failure to uphold the minimum rest period requirement?

Judgment – The Court of Cassation partially upheld the employee’s claims. The court affirmed the employee’s right to minimum rest periods, emphasizing that such breaks are essential for employee well-being and mandated by law. The court further stated that the employer’s repeated disregard for the collective agreement constituted a violation of the employee’s rights. 

Fact of the Case 2: Cass. Soc. 11 mai 2023 n°21-22.281

In this case, the employee was employed under a permanent contract as a pharmacy technician by the employer for a company managing elderly housing. The employee was terminated from their employment during their pregnancy. Subsequently, the employee initiated legal action by submitting multiple claims to the industrial tribunal concerning the fulfillment and termination of their employment contract. 

The employee claimed that their routinely worked shifts exceeded the daily working hour limit (typically 10 hours, with exceptions) and demanded compensation for the extra hours worked. Additionally, the employee alleged that the termination, transpiring during her pregnancy, was unlawful and sought to invalidate it on those grounds.

The lower court initially ruled in favor of the employer because the employee couldn’t prove they suffered specific harm due to the extended hours. However, the Court of Cassation overturned this decision. 

Judgment: The Supreme Court overturned the appeals court decision. It established that exceeding the daily work limit qualifies an employee for compensation, regardless of whether they can demonstrate specific harm. The employee should be compensated for the hours worked over 10 hours a day. 

This aligns with the previous case of Cass. Soc. No. 20-21.636, which ruled that exceeding the legal maximum weekly work hours automatically harms the employee.

Potential Impact on Employers and Employees

These cases have significant implications for both employers and employees. The right to rest is now construed as a powerful exception to the necessary harm principle, offering greater protection against excessive workloads. Employees no longer need to prove specific harm to be eligible for compensation for exceeding daily working hours.

The employer must ensure work schedules comply with minimum rest requirements established by law or collective agreements. Furthermore, employers should be mindful of employee fatigue and prioritize reasonable workloads.

 

Conclusion – These recent cases on the right to rest represent a positive development for employee well-being. By establishing the right to rest as a fundamental exception to the necessary harm principle, these cases ensure a healthier and more balanced work environment for all.

Disclaimer: The material provided above is for informational purposes only and is subject to change. We endeavor to keep all material up-to-date and correct but make no representations about the information's completeness, accuracy, or reliability. Laws vary by jurisdiction and are subject to change and interpretation based on individual factors that may differ between organizations. The material is not meant to constitute legal advice and we suggest you seek the advice of legal counsel in connection with any of the information presented.
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Bhumi Hitesh Soni

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bhumi Hitesh Soni

A labor and employment lawyer at Deltek | Replicon who specializes in global compliance. Deltek | Replicon provides award-winning products that make it easy to manage your workforce. Deltek | Replicon is an industry leader in global compliance and has a dedicated team which pro-actively monitors international labor regulations for ensuring proper adherence with specific country rule requirements.

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