To do business in France, it is vital to have a good understanding of its business or work culture. Making the right impression with the right people is the key to success in France, and it is important to back this up with the right research on the market and potential business associates.
As a global PEO (Professional Employment Organization) it is our goal to be familiar and updated with the business culture in the country we work with and in. By sharing our knowledge about the French work culture, we want to support your global expansion plans. Therefore, we will address all the aspects of the work culture in France to start your expansion well-informed.
Work Culture in France
Foreign companies hoping to make their mark in the France’s economy must have a thorough understanding of the country’s work environment – not just it’s tradition of culture, art, and cuisine – and in France the love of their language is an important part of that culture.
There is a strong division between business and family life and, despite working fewer hours than most of Europe, productivity is high. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked France 15th out of 87 nations for worker productivity.
Although traditional in some ways, tending towards a hierarchical structure, individual initiative is valued by French businesses. Women’s role in business is protected by law and legislation is reducing gender pay differentials.
- Punctuality and Meetings: Being on time is not such an issue as in some countries but call if running more than 10 minutes late. Book meetings at least two weeks in advance, mid to late morning or mid-afternoon (avoiding lunch – unless you are invited and, in that case, never be late!). French businesspeople generally do not appreciate you arriving unannounced in their office.
- Language: French is the official language, and for many the ‘only language’ and a much-loved part of their culture. Even if your French is scant, don’t start the introductory conversation in English. Make the effort and the meeting will go more smoothly.
- Business Relationships: Stay focused on the business reason for the meeting, avoid small talk and don’t stray into questions or revelations about private life. The French keep these two elements very separate. Concentrate on delivering relevant specifics in a clear way without exaggeration or over-emphasis.
- Introductions and Greetings: Leave the highest-ranked of your counterparts to initiate handshakes, especially if your opposite number is female. Use ‘Monsieur’ and ‘Madame’ before the surname – some business relationships never get as far as first names. ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Au revoir’ on arriving and leaving is polite. If exchanging ‘la bise’ (‘air kisses’ one on each cheek) do not also shake hands. Exchange business cards, with the French version on the uppermost side.
- Gift-giving: There is little tradition for this, choose something tasteful if at all.
- Dress Code: Stays formal throughout the meeting; jackets are rarely removed, and ties stay knotted; stylish, smart, and tailored suits for women. If the invitation says ‘Dress informal’, still wear a jacket and tie.
- Negotiating the deal: Always best to deal with your highest-ranked opposite number, otherwise subsequent discussions in their office could ‘move the goalposts’. Supply minutes asap after the meeting.
- Business Meals: Long business meetings are the norm though more about building relationships, and of course the French take cuisine very seriously. Choose the restaurant carefully as this will indicate the value you put on the relationship. Let your hosts choose the wine.
France Minimum Wage
There was no increase in 2021 to France’s National Minimum Wage of €1,554.60 (US$1,830) per month which is €18,655 (US$21,963) per year and divided into 12 equal payments.
Probation Periods in France
Probation or trial periods are often entered into for mutual assessment. Conditions and skill levels can be written into the employment agreement or contract including the duration and if there is provision for an extension.
Generally, open ended contracts allow for maximum trial periods of:
- Blue- and white-collar workers - Two months
- Technical staff and middle managers - Three months
- Top-line professional and managerial staff - Four months
Provided that extensions to probationary periods do not contravene the industry’s collective agreements, the probation can be extended once, which can effectively double the probation time.
During probation an employer may give notice to his employee:
- During first seven days - 24 Hours
- In the first month - 48 hours
- During months two and three - 2 weeks
- Following the third month - 4 weeks
- When an employee gives notice in the first seven days - 24 hours
- Thereafter during the length of the probation - 48 hours
Both parties can terminate the probation without giving reasons as long as there is no discrimination.
Working Hours in France
Legally, the weekly working hours are 35 across the board. Maximum working hours daily is 10 unless an extension if given in a collective agreement to 12 hours. A rest period is mandatory after four-and-a-half hours. 48 hours per week is the maximum allowed or on average 44 hours over 12 consecutive weeks. Hours are considered overtime above the 35 regular working hours.
Breaks are a minimum of 20 mins every six hours with 11 hours rest between working days and 35 hours rest per working week. Sunday is generally considered a rest day.
Overtime in France
Hours over the legally allowed 35 hours per week or 1,607 hours annually are considered overtime and paid as such.
Remuneration for the first eight hours is paid at 125% of the basic hourly rate and 150% for every subsequent hour. However, collective bargaining agreements can allow for ‘paid leave of absence’ and when overtime per year is more than the 220 hours, then a paid leave of absence is permitted as well as the premium due.
Notice Periods in France
Notice periods in France are governed by both collective agreements and the French Labor Code and the length of notice is determined by seniority. By law the entitlement is:
- From six months to two years employment - One month’s notice
- For more than two years - Two months’ notice
Employment of less than six months is governed by company code of practice or collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) which may also stipulate longer periods of notice for employees.
Every employee is entitled to notice unless dismissed through gross misconduct. However, there are strict procedures to terminate a contract and dismiss an employee, including detailed written justifications. The employee has the right for union representatives to attend any meetings.
Termination of notice periods can be agreed between both parties. If the employer wishes to terminate the notice period, the employee should still be paid. If the employee wishes to leave, then the employer has no obligation to pay him.
Redundancy / Termination in France
Statutory severance pay equals a quarter of monthly salary for each year of employment up to 10 years and one third for each subsequent year if no collective agreement applies.
Pension Plans in France
There are three elements to the pension system in France – state pension, compulsory supplementary pensions, and voluntary private pensions. Employees contribute through the mandatory pay-as-you-go towards the minimum state pension. It is possible for foreign workers to transfer some pensions from their home country.
Employees must have worked at least 10 years in France to claim any part of the state pension and have worked for 40-43 years (depending on year of birth) to claim the full entitlement. They can draw a maximum 50% of their average annual earnings capped at €39,732 (US$46,435).
Workers must pay into their relevant mandatory supplementary scheme, either AGIRC for executives or ARRCO for non-executives. Members can access the full pension at 65 or 67 years or take early retirement at 60 or 62 years if they have paid into the scheme for 40-43 years. Entitlement is decided on points accrued during the working career. The public pension schemes are funded through social security contributions amounting to around 15% on earned income.
Employers are reluctant to offer voluntary schemes.
Public Holidays in France
Labor Day on May 1 is a mandatory holiday and double time is paid to employees who have to work. Other statutory holidays are:
- New Year’s Day - January 1
- Easter Monday - varies
- Victory in Europe - May 8
- Ascension Day varies – 39 days after Easter Sunday
- Pentecost/Whit Monday varies – 50 days after Easter Sunday
- Bastille Day - July 14
- Assumption Day - August 15
- All Saints’ Day - November 1
- Armistice Day - November 11
- Christmas Day - December 25
There is no mandatory right for employees to have extra time off if a public holiday falls on a Saturday, or to have the following Monday off if the holiday falls on a Sunday.
* There are 11 public holidays (13 in some provinces).
Sick Leave in France
Employees who take time off work due to sickness are entitled to social security health payments from day one if work related; from day eight if not. A medical certificate is expected within 48 hours.
The employer is expected to supplement the salary up to 90% of the gross pay during the first 30 days of sick leave. For the second 30-day period of absence, the employee will receive two-thirds of salary. There is a 10-day increase to these 30-day periods for every 5 years’ service (not including the first year) up to a maximum of 90 days per period. More preferential terms may be covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Vacations / Holidays in France
After the first month, employees can claim two-and-a-half working days off per month employed, which effectively gives them five weeks of holiday leave a year. Accruing holiday leave runs from June 1 to May 31 but a mandatory holiday season, when an employee is allowed to take vacation runs from May 1 to October 31. However:
- They are not allowed to take off more than 24 days in any one period
- The main holiday (four consecutive weeks) cannot be taken as a whole within the holiday season as this is limited to two weeks
- Holiday time not taken within the period from June 1 to May 31 cannot be carried forward to the following holiday year
Extra days are included within the law and collective bargaining agreements for:
- Employees with a certain level of seniority or professional status
- Family occasions
There are 11 public holidays (13 in some provinces) but no legal right to be paid for time off or receive a day off in lieu, unless this is included in the employment contract.
Maternity / Paternity Leave in France
Maternity leave is set by law at 16 weeks for a single birth ranging to 46 weeks for multiple births – 10 weeks to be taken after the birth of the baby. Although it is not mandatory to take 10 weeks, it is illegal to hire a woman eight weeks before or after birth.
Paternity Paid Leave is 25 days (plus three birth days) for a single birth to 32 days for multiple births.
- Mandatory seven working days leave after the birth to include three birth days (paid for by the employee) and four paternity days by the government
- The rest can be taken in two stages - each must be for more than five days
- For multiple births, the remaining 25 days can be taken in three stages (minimum of five days each). All 32 days are government-paid provided the father has been employed for 10 months contributing at least 150 hours in the previous three months
Parental Leave, according to the Labor Code, can be taken by either the mother or father, together or one at a time and can be extended from the initial year until the child is three years old. Providing the employee has been working for the company for a year by the time the child arrives, the employer cannot refuse parental leave. Also, whoever is taking parental leave is entitled to state benefit
- Repayment of compulsory health care examinations and medical costs from the sixth month until 12 days after birth.
- Social security pays a maternity benefit equal to the average salary over the three previous months with a quarterly cap of €10,131, (US$11,920) as long as the individual worked a minimum 150 hours during those months.
Bonuses in France
Bonuses in France can either be discretionary or contractual or part of a collective bargaining agreement. A discretionary bonus depends entirely on the employer as to whether or not it is paid. It must not be discriminatory but may be dependent on productivity or profit. This is not attached to the employment package.
Contractual bonuses should be written into the employment contract or agreement and can only be updated with the consent of the employee. There are certain rules attached to contractual bonuses and also to the collective bargaining agreements providing for bonuses. It is usual for companies to pay staff a 13thmonth salary as a bonus in December and again this should be part of the employment contract.
Some bonuses can also be established by ‘common practice’ and become mandatory though not part of a contract or agreement.
Car Allowances in France
Car allowances in France are exempt from tax and social insurance contributions with each year’s limits set by the tax authorities. The mileage allowance, based on horsepower and distance travelled, can include depreciation, maintenance, tires, fuel, and insurance costs.
Don’t suffer Culture Shock, Call Us!
To expand into France successfully, it is vital to understand its business culture. With Bradford Jacobs’ Professional Employer Organization (PEO) expertise and knowledge we remove the mysteries of all these issues. Our on-call HR advisers help with adjusting to the workplace environment and understanding a new culture – giving you happy and productive staff. Contact us to find out more!