The standard French working week is 35 hours, having been reduced from 39 hours. The statutory provisions are set out in articles L.212-1 et seq. of the French Employment Code.The 35-hour work week came into effect, on 1 January 2000, for businesses with more than 20 employees and on 1 January 2002, for businesses with 20 employees or less. This legislation was consistently “watered down” in 2003: it is now possible for companies to keep employees’ working time up to 39 hours (or more) per week, for a negotiable extra cost.

Employees may not waive their rights under the statutory provisions by contract. However, very senior management executives within a company may be exempted from all of the restrictions on working time, pursuant to article L.212-15-1 of the Employment Code.

The manner in which working time is calculated is not necessarily locked into the time-frame of the working week. Time measurement may be based on days per year or hours per month, as well as hours per week.

Nevertheless, subject to the exception concerning senior management executives, there are statutory limitations, which will apply whatever the basis for calculating working time:

  • there is a statutory requirement for an uninterrupted period of one day’s rest per week, which in principle should be on a Sunday;
  • an employee must have, in principle, a minimum of 11 hours’ consecutive rest per day;
  • there is in principle a limit of 48 hours per week, and even in exceptional circumstances, working time may not exceed 60 hours per week. Working time may not exceed an average of 44 hours per week for a period of 12 consecutive weeks.

Within these parameters, the range of options open to an employer will depend on the needs of the given business activity and in particular on the extent to which the collective bargaining agreement contains provisions governing working time. The reduction in working time does not necessarily have to be set at a strict 35-hour week. It could, for instance, entail working a 39-hour week, but with rest days; or working a given number of hours per month with or without rest days. An employer may also opt for compensating additional work hours in money rather than rest days. The pay rate for overtime work hours is left to collective bargaining, but has to exceed the regular pay rate by 10% at least. An employee may not work more than 180 extra hours per year in the absence of a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Executives other than senior management executives as well as itinerant employees may be subject to particular rules regarding working time. Notably, if there is a collective bargaining agreement or an agreement between employer and unions, it may be possible to put in place annualised working time, which would be calculated in days per year. The statutory maximum would be 217 days per year.

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