The legal principles
All employees are granted a right to benefit from access to professional training in the course of their employment. In this respect, the French Labour Code states that the employer must ensure the employees’ adaptation to their job position and must secure the maintenance of the employees’ capacity to perform their tasks, particularly in light of the evolution of their jobs, technology and organizations.
In two recent decisions dated May 7 and June 18 2014, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to evoke the extent of the employer’s obligation with regard to the employees’ right to receive such training.
In the first case, a secretary filed a claim before the employment court in order to recover damages, based in part on the grounds that her employer did not provide her with any training courses during her 7 years of employment by the company.
The Court of appeal found in favor of the claimant and ordered the company to pay 6,000 euros as compensation for the absence of training during her employment.
In the second case, five employees with lengths of service ranging from 2 to 12 years at the time of the termination of their employment contract lodged a claim before the employment tribunal seeking damages for breach of the employer’s training obligation.
However, in this instance, the Court of appeal ruled against the employees on the basis that they had not formulated any requests for training during their employment with their employer.
The Supreme Court’s decisions
The Supreme Court upheld the first ruling despite the defense made by the employer based on the argument that the employee had not substantiated her claim because she had not specified how the lack of training had had any impact on her adaptation to her employment or her capacity to occupy her position. The Court held that the mere fact that no training had been provided to the employee over the seven-year period was sufficient to show that the employer had failed to comply with its obligation.
In the second case, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of appeal’s decision and recalled that the obligation to ensure maintenance of the workers’ employability is borne by the employer and that, as a result, the employer cannot rely on the absence of initiative of the employees to request such training in order to excuse its failure to provide such training.
These decisions confirm established case law according to which the obligation to provide training to the employees is the sole responsibility of the employer and is not subject to any prior request by the employees to receive such training. Moreover, it appears from these decisions that no proof of any actual impact of the failure by the employer to provide training on the employability of its employees is required in order to constitute proof of a violation of such obligation.
These rulings also confirmed that the amount of damages the employees can obtain in case of violation of such obligation is commensurate with their length of service within the company.
Finally, it is highly recommended to provide for some training even if the employee’s position does not seem to be affected by any evolution in its professional context. It is only when the duration of the employment remains brief or if an employee has expressly rejected a training action that the employer would be discharged from its obligation.