How do the new French containment and proposed emergency measures impact employers?
The French Government announced wide-ranging containment measures for Covid-19 on 16 March 2020. It has also published an Emergency Bill that includes measures to mitigate and manage the impact of the pandemic. This article examines how they affect employers.
On the evening of 16 March 2020, the French Government issued a decree setting out the new containment measures necessary to limit the spread of the covid-19 virus.
For the time being, these containment measures do not limit travel between home and the workplace, when this travel is essential to carry out professional activity. All professional activities that cannot be undertaken remotely are covered. Exceptional business trips that cannot be postponed are also permitted.
Each person must have a sworn declaration for any journeys they need to undertake. Employers should also provide the employees concerned with a permanent or exceptional document justifying the reason for the trip, to reassure them.
Prefets (departmental or regional state representatives) have powers to adopt more restrictive measures regarding the movement of individuals when local circumstances require it.
These measures apply from 17 March 2020 12:00 until 31 March 2020.
Suspension of ongoing reforms to pensions and unemployment insurance
The pension reform project has been suspended. No timetable has been agreed; if the reform resumes, it will not be adopted before the summer; and it cannot be ruled out that the deadlines for its implementation will be changed.
Although they are no longer in draft, the provisions of the unemployment insurance reform (resulting from Decree No. 2019-797 of 26 July 2019) on the unemployment insurance scheme, which were due to come into force on 1 April also appear to have been suspended. They related to the modification of: the procedures for determining the duration of compensation; the procedures for determining and calculating the reference salary; and the provisions relating to deferment of compensation. These provisions were to apply to jobseekers whose contracts ended on or after 1 April 1, 2020 (except for those whose dismissal proceedings were initiated before that date).
Emergency Bill to address the Covid-19 epidemic
Measures relating to labour relations
The emergency bill to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic provides for the Government to legislate by ordinance, i.e. in place of parliament, in a number of predefined areas, including labour relations. The draft text authorises the Government to take several types of temporary measures.
In particular, the Government would be able to limit the termination of employment contracts (the scope of this provision is far from clear for now), and therefore it is envisaged that the Government will be able to take several types of temporary measures:
- facilitate and strengthen the ‘partial activity’ scheme (extending it to new categories of beneficiary, reduction of cost to be borne by the employer, adaptation of its implementation mechanisms);
- promote vocational training mechanisms,
- make better provision for part-time employees.
The conditions for the acquisition of paid leave may also be modified allowing employers to impose or modify them unilaterally (including where there is presence a collective agreement on these issues) the dates for taking paid leave, RTT days and rest days banked in time saving accounts.
Companies in sectors that are particularly necessary for the security of the nation or the continuity of economic and social life will even be able to derogate from the rules on working hours, weekly rest and Sunday rest.
Exceptionally, the deadlines and terms of payment for profit sharing and incentive schemes may be modified.
There may be changes to the duration of industrial tribunal officers’ terms of office and to the occupational health monitoring of employees.
Finally, the procedures for informing and consulting the Social and Economic Committee may be modified (particularly deadlines).
Measures relating to business life
Among the other measures envisaged by the emergency bill are adjustments to the deadlines on companies for fulfilling various legal obligations. The term of other deadlines that are sanctioned by nullity, prescription, etc. will also be extended.
In judicial matters, procedural rules may be temporarily modified.
Finally, the rules governing general meetings and management bodies, and the rules relating to company accounts or the allocation of profits and the payment of dividends may be amended.