French employment law mandates that it is the employer itself who must notify employees of their dismissal. In this context, and for obvious practical reasons, the employer is entitled to delegate the authority to sign the dismissal letter to another person. However, even though case law has long admitted that in certain situations the dismissal procedure can be conducted by persons who are not on the company’s payroll (for example the HR director of the parent company of the employing entity), it is generally considered that the beneficiaries of such delegation of authority to sign the dismissal letter must belong to the actual employing entity. In the event a dismissal is notified by a person external to the employing entity, the termination of the employment contract is generally considered to be unfair, entitling the employee to seek financial compensation before the employment tribunal.
In this context, what happens if a dismissal letter is signed by the Chief Financial Officer of the parent of the company by which the employee is employed? Should such person be considered as an individual who does not belong to the employing company for the purpose of dismissal rules?
In a recent decision of the Supreme Court dated 30 June 2015, an employee working as Sales Director was dismissed by the CFO of the employer’s parent company. The employee initiated legal proceedings against his former employer to have the dismissal adjudged to be null and void on the ground that the signatory of the dismissal letter did not belong to the company who employed him.
Against this background, the Supreme Court rejected the employee’s claims, holding that the CFO of the company owning 100% of the shares of the employing entity had signed the dismissal letter by delegation of the legal representative of such company. The Supreme Court held that the CFO of the parent company was related to the employing company and that he had the authority to proceed with the notification of the dismissal.
This ruling is not innovative since case law has regularly accepted dismissal procedures being handled by persons who did not technically belong to the company’s staff in certain specific situations (although employees regularly try to challenge such position). In particular, this has been the case where, as here, the employing company is part of a group of companies, although in such case the individuals entitled to undertake the dismissal procedures are very limited.