Gender pay inequality remains a topical issue in France despite the introduction of numerous pieces of legislation intended to suppress the persistent pay gap in average remuneration between women and men. Although French employment law theoretically prohibits any discrimination based on gender and requires that employers ensure equal remuneration between women and men occupying a similar employment or an employment of similar value, there was still a global gap of approximately 19% in 2013 (10% when taking into account equivalent positions and conditions).
One of the main tools of gender pay equality policies in the workplace has been and remains the obligation of companies to conduct negotiations relating to the issue of professional equality and particularly regarding the gap in remuneration between women and men. The purpose of such negotiation is to reach an agreement with trade unions on the adoption of specific measures aiming in particular at reducing the salary gap and suppressing differences of treatment between women and men in general.
However, such obligation does not mean that employers are required to reach an agreement with trade unions and subsequently conclude a binding collective agreement with them. Consequently, French law provides that in the absence of an agreement on such issues, companies employing at least 50 employees are required to adopt a gender equality plan intended to suppress the gender salary gap. If the company fails to adopt such plan, it can be liable to a financial penalty of up to 1% of the total remuneration paid to its employees during the period of breach of the legislation.
In any event, for companies not meeting such criteria (i.e. companies which are not required to negotiate with trade unions and companies employing less than 50 employees), there is a general obligation pursuant to which they must take into account the issue of professional equality and provide for specific measures in order to achieve it.
There also exist various voluntary schemes through which employers can implement specific measures in order to remedy professional inequality between women and men in return for state subsidies or financial aid. An “equality label” has even been created in order to reward companies which proactively implement exemplary gender equality measures.