How to Recruit Employees in France

A number of genre of employment contract are currently in use in France. Examples include interim contracts, some people may work as private consultants availing of the status of auto-entrepreneur, and those who have been out of work for some time may benefit from the “insertion” model of contract which is intended to be a means of helping such people to get back into employment.

The 2 dominant forms of work contract are the fixed-term contract, the “contrat de travail à durée déterminée” (CDD), and the non-fixed or permanent contract “contrat de travail à durée indéterminée” (CDI). When it comes to the recruitment of new employees, particularly young or inexperienced workers, the recruitment a trainee who combines working in the subject industry in order to gain practical experience in tandem with a training course is an attractive option for recruiters. This form of vocational training contract is known as “alternance”.

This article will primarily discuss the recruitment of employees under the alternance, CDD and CDI formats.

CDD: The Temporary Contract

All remunerated work must be carried out within the context of a recognised legal contract of employment. Labour law in France favours permanent contracts (the CDI, which generally speaking favours the employee over the employer) being the norm. Nonetheless, exceptions permit some employers in various situations to make use of of the Fixed-Term, or temporary Contract, which is referred to in French as a“contrat de travail à durée déterminée” (CDD).

The CDI contract is designed to provide a contract which ensures stable and permanent employment. The CDD format is seen as a contract which is suited to the employment of a person in order to carry out a precise and temporary role or duty.

The French Labour Code’s article L.1242-2 states that an employer is allowed to offer a temporary as opposed to a permanent contract in the following circumstances:

  • The replacement of an employee

A temporary worker may be hired to replace a permanent employee who is absent from work. This absence may be for any reason, for example holidays, a significant personal or family event, maternity leave, a training course, ill health or injury. Alternatively, an existing employee may have requested to go part-time for a brief period, or an employee might have been temporarily re-deployed to another role within the business. A short-term replacement, either part-time or full-time may be justified in these circumstances.

Fixed-Term contracts can also be used to immediately fill vacancies that have been created by retirement or an employee resigning for another reason, or perhaps to replace a promoted employee or one who has been moved to another post within the company.

Please note the following:

  • The contract’s end date should be linked to the reason for the employer’s use of a CDD
  • The replaced employee’s duration of absence of the has no impact on the employer’s right to engage a replacement on a temporary contract, that the position is temporary is in itself the justification for the use of a CDD
  • Nonetheless, the CDD should be converted to a CDI should the temporary absence become permanent and the employee wish to continue to employ the replacement worker
  • An replacement can be hired to carry out a portion of the role of the absent worker
  • A “partial” replacement of a manager is also possible in a manner whereby the replacement employee is not physically present on the site where the party being replaced usually is.
  • Short-term augmentation in activity

An employer is permitted to hire workers temporarily to meet the requirements of a short-term, seasonal or unusual peak in activity.

Legitimate reasons for offering fixed-term contracts on this basis include the following:

  • An unusually large export order which requires an investment on behalf of the company that could be deemed onerous in the context of their typical figures and workload
  • Temporary or occasional works which are not part of the business’ primary activities e.g. auditing or the updating of the company IT system
  • Urgent works required in order to guarantee the safety of workers or customers
  • Work that is temporary by its nature

– The hiring of seasonal workers

Temporary workers may be hired under fixed-term contracts to perform functions or satisfy short-term needs which repeat annually. Examples are typically found in the agricultural or tourism industries.

e.g. the “Grape Harvest Contract” (contrat vendanges), is a fixed-term contract that reflects the needs of wine producers. It generally lasts for one month under the conditions defined in the Rural and Maritime Fishing Code.

Specific role temporary contract

This involves situation where, e.g. engineers, have been engaged to carry out a specific task (which is temporary in nature, the contract ends when the work is completed) via an extended branch agreement.

Custom temporary contracts

In some fields of employment, it is a given that CDI contracts are normally unsuitable because of the temporary nature of the roles, examples may include the entertainment or sports industries. The regulations are detailed under Labour Code article D1242-2.

  • Particular situations

The “Senior” contract

Labour Code article L1242-3 provides that a CDD can be signed between an employer as defined by article L.2212-1 (e.g. the majority of agricultural employers) and an employee who is at least 57 years old. The said employee is obliged to have been registered as a jobseekers for no less than 3 months beforehand to be eligible. The intention of this genre of contract is to enable older people who find themselves unemployed to return to work, thereby also assisting to ensure that they maintain their full pension and benefit rights.

Contract for the “professional gamer”

The employers of professional players of video games can rely on a special provision, reflective of the particular circumstances of the industry, in order to offer them a CDD contract.

Contract Length

In theory, a CDD contract contains both a definite expiry date and a minimum length. It ends on the fixed date, or when the objective for which it was concluded has been finished (e.g. the completion of emergency repair works). A CDD contract’s maximum length is variable depending on the particular circumstances which were relied upon to justify its use or depending on the form of CDD (whether or not it has a particular expiry date).

Nonetheless, the initial length of a CDD when taken in addition to the length of subsequent renewals must not be greater than the maximum permitted duration. A CDD contract may be renewed twice for a precise period, or from one defined date to another. This length might be equal to, briefer than, or even longer that the duration initially outlined in the contract.

The maximum length of a CDD with a determined expiry, or from specific date to date, may last from three months to two years. With respect to a temporary contract under the ‘specific purpose’ or ‘senior’ categories, it can last up to a maximum three years.

Please be aware that the above is not an exhaustive resume of reasons and that other variations can and do apply.

Max length of contract according to reason for recourse to fixed-term contract:

CDD Justification Contract without a precise max duration
Maximum duration of less than 9 months
Engagement post-economic lay-off (3 months) Not possible
Seasonal employees (6 – 8 months) The end of the season
Maximum duration of 9 months
Period before the appointment of a new permanent employee 9 months
Urgent safety or security works Not possible
Maximum length of 18 months
Replacement of absent employee or where a contract suspended (e.g. sick leave) Replaced employee’s return
Replacement of company director, head of agricultural holding, family assistant and others referred to by Labour Code article L.1242-2 Replaced person’s return
Short-term augmentation in activity Not possible
Custom CDD Realisation of the purpose of the contract
Max length of 24 months
Period pre-abolition of the role of an employee who has definitively left the company Not possible
Exceptional order for export Not possible
Missions Overseas Realisation of the purpose of the contract
Max length of 36 months
Specific purpose CDD (non-renewable)
CDD senior (renewable one time only)

The CDI – Permanent Contract

As is evident to those even with only school level French, the title of the contrat de travail à durée indéterminée is clearly an employment contract in which the length, or end date, is “undetermined”. This means that in ordinary circumstances the contract does not need to be extended or renewed.

Nevertheless, this type of contract can be brought to an end at any moment by a unilateral decision; e.g. should the employee choose to resign, or if the employer feels there are sufficient grounds to justify the employee’s dismissal. A contract might even come to an end due to factors which are beyond the control of either party such as an ‘Act of God’ (e.g. the employer’s site being entirely destroyed by a flood, fire or natural disaster).

A CDI contract can also be terminated via the mutual agreement of the employer and employee. This is known as a rupture conventionnelle procedure, and is defined in law number 2008-596 of June 25th, 2008.

When is an employer obliged to offer a CDI contract?

Generally speaking, French employees will choose a CDI contract ahead of the CDD version should they have an option. In addition, French law leans toward the CDI format being favoured and is broadly considered to be the standard model of employment contract.

Simply put, an employer is obliged to offer this form of contract other than in circumstances where the recourse to another contract type can reasonably be justified. CDI contracts may apply to full-time or part-time positions.

What format should a CDI take?

Generally speaking, any employment contract has to be agreed upon and signed by the employer and the employee. That said, exceptionally in the case of a full-time CDI, the contract can be agreed in a verbal format except where a contrary express provision demands a written contract.

Nevertheless, despite such a contract being verbal, one should be aware that the employer is obliged to provide the employee with details in writing of the information included in the preliminary declaration of employment that is to be sent to the French workers’ social security authority (the URSSAF).

The contract should be written in French, however it the employee is a foreigner who does not speak the language fluently, he or she is entitled to request a translation which the employer must then provide.

What does a CDI contain?

The exact details and specific clauses in any CDI are broadly at the discretion of the two parties to it.

That said, the contract must respect the bare minimum rights of an employee as per the French Labour Code (e.g. minimum pay) and discriminatory clauses and conditions are expressly forbidden.

How can a CDI be terminated?

A CDI cannot come to and end without the clear wishes of one party, or via the mutual agreement of both parties.

In some circumstances, the employee might be in a position to request a judicial termination. An example of a reason for this is when the employee considers that the employer has been lacking in their duties obligations. To proceed with such a request, the employee has to recognise the contract’s termination and notify the employer in writing.

These circumstances ordinarily result in one of the two following judicial decisions:

  • The end of contract is judged to have been a form of constructive dismissal, i.e. the employee was effectively forced to resign by the unacceptable conditions created by the employer
  • If the employee’s complaints are not legitimate or sufficient, the end of the contract is legally considered to have been a simple resignation

How does a Business recruit an employee under the Alternance format?

It is currently the case that more and more French businesses are choosing to put their trust in a trainee, working in alternance. This is true in industry, banking, assurance, sales and in many other sectors. In fact, the ability to offer a vocational training contract of this form allows a business to address the challenges posed by frequent staff turn-over, to replace absent employees and to help deal with short-term growth in activity at relatively little cost.

As a trainee, the employee under the alternance regime earns less than his or her colleagues. Nonetheless, the training contract is an opportunity to gain invaluable practical experience in the field and to benefit from the tuition of a qualified member of staff who will explain in detail the nuances of the profession and the objectives of the business.

Businesses that are interested in recruiting trainees to work in alternance should note the following:

Identify the needs of the business before recruiting

Alternance should be viewed as a true partnership between the business and the employee.

Before looking for the ideal candidate, it is essential to clearly identify the needs of the business. In that way, it will be best possible to define the profile of the position that will be attributed to any future contracted trainee.

To help define their labour needs, businesses in France may turn to the following institutions:

  • Les Centres de Formation d’Apprentis (CFA) i.e. the Apprentice Training Centres,
  • The Consular Chambers (The Chamber of Trade, Commerce and Agriculture),
  • The Regional Council,
  • Les Organismes Paritaires Collecteur Agréés (OPCA) i.e. The Authorised Joint Collection Bodies.

The position offered must conform with the training programs offered by the National Ministries of Education and Agriculture.

In the job description, the following details must be clearly defined:

  • Job title,
  • Qualifications required,
  • Description of the duties / roles to be performed,
  • The candidate’s proposed position within the organisational structure,
  • Necessary competences for the job,
  • The place of work,
  • Remuneration details,
  • The address / email address for the submission of candidatures.

Having a clear outline of the conditions of employment enable the business to correctly respond to any questions raised by the candidate during the job interview.

Businesses, therefore, will also be better placed to ensure that the recruit candidates who are best suited to their needs.

Finding the right alternance candidate

The advent of the Internet has made it much more simple for a business to find suitable candidates to fill its vacancies. This is true whether recruiting a trainee under an alternance contract, or a more experienced worker under a full-time contract either temporary or permanent.

The most important task in internet recruiting is to draft an attractive job announcement in order to attract as many applicants as possible: Highlight the benefits and advantages of the position (remuneration, duration of contract, interesting roles or duties involved, etc.).

In order to gain maximum exposure for the job advertisement there are a number of options:

  • Post the job announcement on a well known recruitment website (Monster, Régionjob, Indeed, L’Etudiant etc.) in order to attract the attention of students,
  • Place a small classified advert in technical or vocational schools,
  • Connect with a candidate via a social media-style recruitment site (e.g. LinkedIn, Viadeo),
  • Place an announcement in a local newspaper.

With just a few clicks, businesses can find dozens of profiles which correspond with their needs. The recruiter can then concentrate on the next step of the recruitment process.

Interviewing a candidate for a position within his or her company permits the recruiter to verify the impression the candidate makes in person and to judge his or her articulacy and work ethic.

Through the interview process, companies can ascertain the candidate’s:

  • Involvement and motivation,
  • Professional goals,
  • Prior experience and personal statement,
  • Qualifications,
  • Capacity to adapt,
  • Dynamism, curiosity and social skills.

When a business decides not to offer the post to a candidate who has attended for interview, it is considered good practice and good for the company’s reputation to nonetheless send a response to confirm that decision via email or letter.

Putting the alternance contract in place

As soon as the successful candidate has been chosen, the business must take the necessary administrative steps to ensure compliance with French labour law.

The employer must sign a declaration of commitment which confirms that it will undertake to provide the appropriate work equipment, that the candidate’s tutor will be suitably qualified, and that it will adequately ensure the organisation of the alternance work period. Next, the employer must draw up an alternance contract in compliance with the formula CERFA FA13.

To which institution should the completed file be sent?

  • For crafts and artisan trades: The Departmental Chamber of Trade,
  • For agricultural trades (excluding rural crafts): The Departmental Chamber of Agriculture,
  • For other trades: The Departmental Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI),
  • For all associations or professions that are not registered with the RCS : The territorial unit of the DIRECCTE,
  • For any business based in Alsace-Moselle: The Business Register.

Designating and training a tutor in the business

A business must choose a tutor to be responsible for the training of any future employee under an alternance contract. This person will be directly responsible for the student throughout the apprenticeship contract.

The tutor must:

  • Possess the degree or equivalent qualification for which the alternance candidate is preparing for,
  • Have at least 2 years of experience in the same field in the context of having worked under a professional contract or 3 years if in the context of a contract of apprenticeship,
  • Complete a training course relating to the organisation of alternance instruction.

As soon as the contract has been signed, the administrative steps taken and a tutor appointed, the business and the alternat may commence their partnership.

Regarding the tutoring of the new employee, the company may choose to have the designated teacher follow a training course of his or her own in order to maximise potential to best instruct the recruit.

If recruiting a more experienced candidate, the employer has a number of other options. The primary options are, however, the CDD and the CDI.

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.