Employees’ working time is a hot topic in France, the 35 hour week being the centre piece of working time regulations in France. Although the 35 hour week has been repeatedly criticized over the years, it has remained mostly unchanged. French law also includes more specific and complex provisions for various categories of employees.

Normal working time for employees is the 35 hour week (35 hours being the legal working time). This means that any hours worked over such threshold is considered as overtime which should be paid at increased rates and/or compensated by the allocation of rest periods to the employees.

However, employers may derogate from the 35 hour week by collective agreement through various schemes, notably by averaging out the 35 hour weekly over one year. This is the most frequent derogation, and in practice, employees often work 36, 37, 38 or 39 hours per week, this being compensated by the allocation of a certain number of days off (“RTT days”) over the year.

French employment law also includes limitations in terms of daily working time (in principle 10 hours), weekly working time (in principle 48 hours, 44 hours averaged out over a period of twelve consecutive weeks), and minimum rest periods (20 uninterrupted minutes for each period of 6 hours worked, 11 consecutive hours in every 24 hour working period, 35 consecutive hours in each seven day period).

Some categories of employees are excluded from part or all French law legislation on working time:

  • Very senior executives (“cadres dirigeants”) are fully excluded from the scope of French law on working time, provided they met certain conditions, including actually managing the company. The number of employees concerned by this exemption is however very limited;
  • Subject to the company being covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement allowing such possibility, the working time of autonomous executives (“cadres autonomes”) may be calculated as a global number of hours or days over the year (within specific limits). However, this category of executives remains subject to minimum daily and weekly rests. Such terms, and the underlying collective bargaining agreements, have been subject to very strict scrutiny by French courts given the potential abuses to which it may give rise.

There are also strict rules concerning specific working time patterns, notably night work and Sunday work (which could be authorised more widely by the Macron draft law provisions). As to part-time work, there exist very specific rules and notably the obligation to provide for a minimum working time (24 hours per week or its monthly equivalent) which is, however, subject to some exceptions.

Breach of working time regulation can trigger the employer’s penal liability (fines and fairly theoretical jail sentences could be incurred) and claims for damages and back payment of overtime being made by the relevant employees. Breach of overtime notably can be considered as clandestine work which triggers penal sanctions, jail sentence and the possibility for the employee whose employment contract is terminated to claim before the labour court an amount of 6 months’ salary in addition to all other termination payments and of any damages for unfair dismissal. The employees can also invoke a constructive dismissal with the same consequences as unfair dismissal.