Types of Employment Contract in France

As is the case in any job market in any country, there are a number of types of employment contract in France. For example, interim contracts, apprenticeship contracts, some people work as private consultants under the status of auto-entrepreneur, and there is also the “insertion” model of contract; this is designed as a means to assist people who have experienced difficulty finding work to get back into employment.

The two principle types of employment contract are the fixed-term contract, in French the contrat de travail à durée déterminée” or CDD, and the Permanent contract “contrat de travail à durée indéterminée” or CDI. This article will primarily discuss the CDD and CDI formats.

The Fixed-Term Contract

The terms of all work relationships between the employer and employee must be framed within a recognised contract of employment. French labour law generally encourages that permanent contracts (the CDI, more favourable to the employee) are the norm. That said a number of exceptions permit the employer to avail of the Fixed-Term Contract contrat de travail à durée déterminée” or “CDD”.

The purpose of the CDI contract is, in theory, to provide a contractual basis for stable and permanent employment whereas aCDD is envisaged as a contract under which a person may be employed in order to fulfil a specific and temporary role or task.

Article L.1242-2 of the French Labour Code defines the only circumstances in which an employer is permitted to offer a Fixed-Term rather than a permanent contract as the following:

  • Replacing an employee

An employer may hire a temporary worker in order to replace a permanent employee who is absent from work for any reason; e.g. paid or unpaid holidays, a family event, maternity or paternity leave, attendance at a professional training course, illness or injury. Other reasons why hiring a worker on a temporary bases may be because an existing employee has requested to work part-time for a short period, to replace an employee who has been temporarily moved to another post within the company.

A Fixed-Term contract may also be used to initially fill a vacancy created by retirement or an employee leaving the company for any other reason, or indeed to replace an employee who has been permanently promoted or moved to another function within the enterprise.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and that other situations when a CDD contract can be legitimately used, including the temporary replacement of management or directors, can and do apply.

To be noted:

  • The end date of the contract should normally be linked to the justification for the employer’s recourse to aCDD
  • The length of absence of the replaced employee has no bearing on the employer’s right to hire a replacement on a fixed-term contract, the fact that the position is temporary justifies the use of aCDD
  • Nonetheless, theCDDshould be converted to a CDI in certain circumstances where the temporary absence has become permanent
  • An employee may be hired to fulfil solely a portion of the duties of the absent worker
  • The partial replacement of a director or manager may also be envisaged in a manner in which the replacement employee is not physically present on the site where the replaced party normally is.
  • Temporary increase in activity

The employer is entitled to hire workers on a temporary contract in order to meet the demands of a short-term, cyclical or atypical peak in activity.

Acceptable reasons for offering a fixed-term contract on this basis include:

  • An exceptional order for export which necessitates and onerous investment on behalf of the enterprise in the context of their average figures
  • Occasional and temporary works which do not form part of the businesses core activities e.g. the updating of a department’s computer systems, staff training, audits etc.
  • Urgent works that are required to be undertaken immediately in order to ensure the safety of workers or to repair or secure materials, installations or buildings
  • Performance of work that is temporary in nature

– Seasonal Workers

An employer is permitted to hire temporary workers under fixed-term contracts to carry out functions or fulfil short-term needs which repeat, roughly, during the same periods annually. Typical examples would include the agricultural or tourism industries.

e.g. the contrat vendanges, or “Grape Harvest Contract”, is a fixed-term contract is one that reflects the needs of the wine industry and generally lasts for a maximum period of one month under the conditions defined by articles L.718-4 to L-718-6 of the Rural and Maritime Fishing Code.

Specific purpose fixed-term contract

This concerns a situation where, e.g. engineers or similar, have been hired to perform a specific task (by its nature temporary, the contract ends on the task’s completion) by virtue of an extended branch agreement.

Customary fixed-term contracts

In some sectors, it is recognised that the CDI contract is often unsuitable due to the temporary nature of many roles, e.g. the entertainment or audiovisual sectors, sports associations. Conditions are outlined under article D1242-2 of the Labour Code.

  • Special situations

The “Senior” fixed-term contract

Under Article L1242-3 of the Labour Code, a CDD may be concluded between an employer as referred to in Article L.2212-1 (excluding employers in the agricultural industry) and an employee over 57 years old. The employee must have been registered on the list of jobseekers for at least 3 months beforehand. The goal of this form of contract is to assist older jobseekers in getting back into work and therefore also helping ensure that they will later be entitled to their full pension and benefit from the additional associated rights.

The professional gamer contract

There is special provision for the fixed-term contract of employment for professional players of video games relating to their remuneration for competing in competitions and the like.

The Length of the Contract

In principle, the CDD contract should contain both a clear expiry date and a minimum period. It comes to an end on the fixed date, or when the purpose for which it was made has been realised (e.g. the completion of urgent works). The maximum length of a CDD may vary depending upon the particular circumstances which justified its use in the first place or depending on the type of CDD (with or without a particular expiry date).

Nevertheless, the initial period of a CDD when added to the length of any subsequent renewals must not surpass the maximum duration authorised. The CDD can be renewed twice for a specific period, or from a “date to date”. This duration maybe equal to, shorter than, or even longer that the length originally foreseen in the contract.

The maximum duration of a CDD with a defined expiry (or from date to date) may run from 3 to 24 months. For a ‘specific purpose’ or ‘senior’ CDD, the contract can last up to 36 months.

Please note that other variations may apply.

Maximum duration of contract according to justification for use of fixed-term:

Justification for CDD Contract without a specific maximum length
Maximum duration of less than 9 months
Hiring after an economic lay-off (3 months) Impossible
Seasonal workers (6 to 8 months) End of the season
Maximum duration of 9 months
Period prior to the appointment of a new employee on a permanent basis 9 months
Urgent works undertaken to ensure safety/security Impossible
Maximum duration of 18 months
Replacement of and absent employee or where a contract has been suspended (e.g. sick leave) Return to work of the replaced employee
Replacement of a company director, head of an agricultural holding, family assistant and all other persons referred to under article L.1242-2 of the Labour Code Return to work of the replaced person
Temporary increase in activity Impossible
Customary CDD Completion of the purpose of the contract
Maximum duration of 24 months
Period prior to the abolition of the post of an employee who has definitively left the enterprise Impossible
Exceptional export orders Impossible
Overseas missions Completion of the purpose of the contract
Maximum duration of 36 months
CDD for specific purpose (non-renewable)
CDD senior (renewable once only)

The Permanent Contract (CDI)

As its title indicates to even those with very basic French, the contrat de travail à durée indéterminée is an employment contract in which the duration, or completion date, is “undetermined”, meaning that in normal circumstances it does not need to be renewed.

However, this form of contract may be broken at any time by a unilateral decision; such as a decision by the employee to resign, or by the employer should they feel there are grounds for the dismissal of the employee. The contract may even be brought to an end by factors beyond either party’s control (such as an ‘Act of God’, e.g. the entire business premises is destroyed in a natural disaster).

It is also noteworthy that this form of contract may also be terminated upon the mutual agreemnt of the parties under the rupture conventionnelle procedure as detailed under law number 2008-596 of the 25th June 2008.

When must a CDI contract be concluded?

The majority of employees in France prefer a CDI contract over a CDD when they have the option. Moreover, the CDI format is generally viewed as the standard, or normal, form of employment contract.

The employer is therefore obliged to use this type of contract other than in circumstances where they can justify the recourse to another contract form, most notably the CDD (discussed above) or another form of temporary contract. A CDI may be a full-time or part-time contract.

In what form should a CDI contact be signed?

Any type of employment contract must be agreed and signed by the two parties. Nonetheless, a full-time CDI, exceptionally, may be agreed in a non-written format other than where a contrary provision insists upon a written contract.

Nonetheless, although such a contract remains verbal, it should be noted that the employer is under the obligation to furnish the employee with a written document detailing the information contained in the preliminary declaration of employment that is sent to the URSSAF (the French workers’ social security authority).

The CDI must be drafted in French, but in circumstances where the employee is a foreigner, a translation should be provided should the employee request it.

What is contained in this form of contract?

The contents and the specific clauses which figure in the CDI are largely at the discretion of the employer and the employee.

It must been noted, of course that some clauses and conditions which have long been recognised as being contrary to French values and law, e.g. clauses that require an employee to live a celibate or single life, payment below the SMIC level (the French minimum wage) or those clauses which could be deemed discriminatory are forbidden. Evidently, the contract must also incorporate the minimum rights of an employee as outlined in the Labour Code.

When may a CDI be terminated?

As discussed above, the name of the CDI indicates that it lacks a defined or specific term of employment. The employment therefore cannot come to an end without the express wishes of one party (the employer or the employee), or through the mutual agreement of the two parties.

Under certain conditions, the employee may also been in a position to make a request for a judicial termination, most notably in circumstances where it is considered that the employee has been lacking in his obligations. In such a case, the employee must acknowledge contract termination and inform the employer in writing.

Such circumstances normally result in either one of the following judgements:

  • The end of the employment is viewed as a form of constructive dismissal whereby the employee has been effectively forced to resign
  • If it is not felt that the employee’s complaints are legitimate or sufficient, the termination of the contract is viewed as a resignation

About the Author

The author of this article, Eoin P. Campbell, is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified as a solicitor in 2007. His professional experience includes personal injury litigation, business law, the law of contract, employment law and European law. Eoin is currently lecturing in the law faculty of a prestigious university based in Lyon, France.

N.B. Please note that the information contained in this article is intended to be advisory only. If you intend to commence employing people in France you are advised to discuss the issues raised above and any concerns you may have with an employment professional.