The employment contract in France can be a tricky one. There are a lot of footnotes and impenetrable jargon. But don’t worry, reality is not as bad as it seems.
First of all, most of the contracts that you’ll sign as an employee will be legit. It may not seem like so because a lot of paragraphs and/or the wording is weird, but they are. Indeed, labour law in France may be kind of a bitch and most employers in SME will rely on templates they find online on lawyers’ websites.
Second, even though your contract is 15 pages long, there are only a few elements that need to be checked thoroughly. The rest is mainly french self-satisfaction in writing long and complex sentences (you don’t have writers like Proust for no reason…).
In this article, we will help you navigate the most important questions you need to ask yourself and the most important boxes you need to tick in order to check your work contract.
Little disclaimer : we are not law professionals and the advice we give is of course not exhaustive. If any doubts or questions remain after reading this article, either contact us or a labour law professional.
Must the contract be in written form
on paper ?
There is a distinction in France between permanent contracts (CDI – Contrat à durée indéterminée) and temporary contracts for part-time positions (CDD – Contrats à durée déterminée).
The CDI doesn’t always have to be in written form on paper, but the vast majority of companies will have you sign one. You can always request your employer to provide you with a written contract.
The CDD always has to be in written form on paper. This also applies for fixed-term contracts (like temporary positions), or apprenticeship contracts.
A written employment contract is always more protective of the worker than a mere verbal agreement and it’s pretty standard to have a written contract in France.
Can you start working without
a contract ?
In France, you can start working without a contract but you must make sure that you get one as soon as you can. A contract is always more protective than a verbal agreement.
Some companies may send a work confirmation letter (lettre d’engagement) in which they declare their intention to hire you. This is in no way a contract !
What should be included ?
When a permanent contract is written, it must specify:
- The identities and addresses of all parties.
- The job title and professional qualifications.
- The place of work.
- Working hours.
- Remuneration (salary and bonuses).
- Paid leave.
- Duration of the trial period.
- Notice periods in the event of contract termination.
- A non-compete or mobility clause, if applicable.
Can I request a contract in another
language than French ?
CDI contracts must be drafted in French.
You can always request a bilingual version or a copy translated into your own language for information purposes.
The French version of the contract will remain the reference version.
What is a trial period and how long
can it be ?
In France, before you are definitely hired in the company, you may have to work a trial period. During this trial period the employer can fire you at any time, but you can also leave at any time, without any notice period.
Trial periods are not mandatory. They are at the employer’s discretion.
The duration of the trial period varies according to your rank in the company :
- 2 months for the workers (ouvriers et employés)
- 3 months for technicians (agents de maîtrise ou techniciens)
- 4 months for a cadre
Your rank (worker, technician, cadre) is usually specified in your contract.
Trial periods can be renewed once.
How can you change your
employment contract ?
A distinction should be made between :
- “Changes to the conditions of employment” which the employer can decide unilaterally (hours, notice period, etc.)
- “Changes of the contract of employment” which requires the employee’s agreement and which relates to:
- the methods of payment or the amount thereof
- the working hours
- the place of work
- the employee’s job title,
- any other information considered necessary by the parties.
How to end a contract ?
The CDD ends when its term is up.
The CDI can be terminated by the employer or the employee.
Bear in mind that in France, there are multiple ways to end a work contract.
It can be done on the company/employer initiative, it’s then called a termination (licenciement in french).
You can also instigate the end of your work contract, then it’ll be either a resignation or a mutually agreed termination
- Never write and send a blank resignation letter to your employer
- Always check that your rank and remuneration align
- Your working contract shows your rank and in France, collective agreements set a minimum amount for salary based on that rank.
- You cannot have more than 2 consecutive CDD with the same company for the same position. If they hire you a third time in this situation in a CDD, you have to be offered a CDI.