When we think of France, we think of art de vivre, (meaning “the art of living”). France is renowned for its wine, cheese, culture, and most importantly, quality of life. Its famous 35-hour week makes headlines around the world, along with the long-standing attitude of “work to live, don’t live to work”. So you can imagine that this carries through into having some pretty interesting employee benefits in France, offered to residents.
With a world-class education, a long history of culture and innovation, and a stable economy, France can afford to have lot of legalized benefits. Many of these benefits are offered by public and private employers, who in turn get reimbursed by the government.
These benefits have been put in place after many decades of contestation and protests between successive governments and unions. The unions in France are quite powerful, and the French insist on social protections and a safety net that is unheard off in North America and other parts of the world.
Before we take a deep dive into benefits in France, I should note that a lot of these benefits I’ve noted below are the legal benefits, as in they are the minimum.
A lot of French companies may offer even more advantages because they have negotiated them with the unions in their industry. For example, a secretary working for a bank will get more maternity leave, then one working for an insurance company or a factory, simply because the banks have negotiated a different convention collective as an industry with their union, even though both secretaries may be performing the same tasks.
And so with that, let’s take a look at the multitude of benefits offered in France. Allons-y!
- 1. Vacation
- 2. Health insurance
- 3. Maternity leave
- 4. Paternal, adoption, and other baby-related leaves
- 5. Unemployment benefits
- 6. Government pension
- 7. Sick leave
- 8. Leave for illness/death of a relative
- 9. Public holidays
- 10. Parental leave
- 11. Wedding leave
- 12. Unpaid sabbatical
- 13. Education subsidies
- 14. Lunch subsidies
- 15. Commuting allowances
- 16. Children’s Back to School leave
- 17. Premium Sunday hours
- 18. Work from Home
- 19. Work Council (CE) benefits
- 20. Christmas benefits
- 21. Right to disconnect
- 22. Firing an employee
The one benefit that foreigners always think of when they think of France, is of course the vacation time! (I confess, I also thought about it when deciding to move to France!). French law mandates a minimum of 5 weeks vacation per year.
It didn’t always start out this way. The first vacations in France were voted on by the Front Populaire party who legalized 2 weeks off. It then increased to 3 weeks in 1956, and 4 weeks in 1969 and finally 5 weeks in 1981 after many hard fought protests.
Today however, most firms actually offer anywhere from 6 weeks on up. Added to the legalized vacations, are the weeks added on in conjunction with negotiations with unions, which usually takes place by industry.
There are also days added for Réduction du temps de travail (RTT), which is the days that are legally mandated to be given off for working more than 35-hours a week. (Yes, that famous 35-hour work week is a myth.)
In practical terms after all this, most employees and workers get anywhere from 8-10 weeks vacation, and certain government workers can get up to 12 weeks. While employees can spread out that vacation over the year, the standard is to take 3 weeks in either July or in August. The only debate is would you rather be a juilletiste or an aoûtien?
2. Health insurance
Basic medical care is free in France, however most people also have a mutuelle or top-up health insurance offered by their employer, or directly with the insurance company/govt.
The health insurance mutuelle is meant to cover medical costs not covered by the government, such as dental, prescriptions, optometry, etc. The government pays a fixed percentage of costs, but doctors costs (in big cities) that are more expensive, will be covered by the mutuelle. (Eg. standard doctor visit in France costs around €50, with around €30 covered by the govt. and €20 by the mutuelle.)
The mutuelle health cover offered depends on each employer and the mutuelle plan selected by the employee.
3. Maternity leave
The standard maternity leave for new mothers is 6 weeks before the birth, and 10 weeks after for a total of 16 weeks. This increases to 8 weeks before and 18 weeks after if it is the 3rd child, for a total of 26 weeks.
If the mother is expecting multiples, they are entitled to:
- twins: 34 weeks
- triplets or more: 46 weeks
In addition, if the mother-to-be is tired or has other difficulties, her doctor can decide to increase the leave (congé pathalogique) by another 2 weeks before and/or 4 weeks after.
And if the baby is premature and born more than 6 weeks before the due date, the maternity leave is extended up to the original due date, to allow the mother to stay with her little premie. These are the minimum requirements, however certain sectors like banks offer additional weeks of maternity leave to their employees.
Mothers get the full portion of their salary, up to a particular fixed amount. Most medium and large French companies however usually “top-up”, so that the mother gets the full amount.
4. Paternal, adoption, and other baby-related leaves
First of all, there is a leave for the actual birth of the child, which is 3 days for fathers and/or the non-birthing parent. This also applies to adoptive parents.
On top of that, there is the paternal leave with the current allowance being 11 days, or 18 days in case of multiples. However, the government is planning on extending that to 3 weeks, and changing how the amount is calculated. This is not great compared to some Scandinavian countries, but not the worst either.
There are other types of leave as well, for new parents:
- Childcare leave for fathers whose newborn is in the hospital: an additional 30 days
- Adoption leave: One parent takes 10 weeks, while the other takes 11 days. In case of additional children this increases to match the same allowance that birth parents receive.
5. Unemployment benefits
Unemployment benefits are relatively generous in France, operating on a sliding scale depending on how long the person has been employed. Usually, the company is required to pay an indemnity, and in the case of mass layoffs, may also be required to provide a salary for a period of time after the contract has ended, up to 6 months to a year. (This is assuming the employee has not been fired for misconduct, in which case there is no indemnity.)
Once the company’s unemployment benefits end, the government picks up the cheque. In general, pôle emploi benefits for a full-time employee are for 24 months if you are under 53 years old, and 36 months if you are over 53. They also offer retraining, job boards, and aid to help people find a new job or start their own company.
Certain classes of employees such as those in theatre or seasonal workers are offered special benefits geared towards their working hours.
6. Government pension
French employees are entitled to a pension from the government, which is based on the number of years they worked, their salary, and the amount contributed on their behalf by their employer.
Employees can also “buy” years where they were not working, by paying an amount calculated by a complex formula that takes into account their age, salary, etc.
7. Sick leave
Sick leave, known as congé maladie, is one of those benefits that is quite different from those we are used to in North America. For one, there is no fixed number of days allowed. It is up to the person’s doctor (or the work doctor) to decide how many days the person requires off.
The doctor prescribes the congé maladie, with the salary of the individual then being picked up by the government (up to a particular ceiling). Any overages, may or may not be covered by the employer’s policy to allow the employee to get his/her full salary.
This is a bit of a double-edge sword, because abuses of this generous sick leave policy are relatively common. To combat this, the government instituted a rule saying that the first 3 days of the sick leave would be unpaid.
So on the other hand, sometimes French employees have a cold or the flu and still show up to the office. To avoid this, some employers have decided to pay the first 3 days as well, as a policy.
8. Leave for illness/death of a relative
In France there are specific legally authorized allowances which are paid for (up to a limit) by the governement for the following cases:
- Leave for sick children: 3-5 days per year for a child who is mildly ill (eg. cold or flu where child cannot go to school)
- Onset of a child’s disability: 2 days
- Parental presence leave: 310 days over 3 years for a dependent child is handicapped or seriously ill. Can be renewed.
- Family solidarity leave: 3 months to a year for a close family member who is handicapped or ill.
There is also an allowance for a death in the family:
- death of a parent, sibling, or partner: 3 days
- death of a child: 7-15 days possible
While it is the government who pays these allowances, the employer must keep the employees position open and available to him/her during this period. Coworkers can also decide to donate days to their these employees in certain situations such as:
- Donation of days off for critically ill children
- Donation of days of rest to an employee whose child has died
There is no restriction of how many days can be donated, the coworker just has to reserve 4 weeks of vacation for him/herself, and can donate all the rest.
9. Public holidays
There are 11 official public holidays in France, many of which like Toussaint have roots in catholicism. France today may be a laique country (separation of church and state), but no one wants to give up those holidays.
Other public holidays like Fête de Travail (Labor day) and Fête de la Victoire de 1945 (Victory day after WWII) speak to hard won victories on and off the battlefield.
Some of these holidays are quite close together on the calendar, especially in the months of May and November. This leads to routine French habit of “faire le pont“, which is taking vacation days in between to combine days to make for a longer holiday. Don’t be surprised if you send a work email in May and only get a response in June.
10. Parental leave
There is also full-time parental leave of 1 year available to parents. This can be renewed several times, based on the number of children the parent has. The employee does not get the full salary, but a portion of it, up to a fixed ceiling. In the event of illness, serious accident or serious disability of the child, parental leave may be extended.
11. Wedding leave
On a happier note, if you are getting married in France or PACS, you are entitled to a 4 day vacation allowance. PACS is a civil union that provides less rights and is less legally strict than a marriage in France, so many couples actually decide to PACS and then get a married a few months/years later.
In this case, they are entitled to the additional 4 days for each occasion. Parents of the bride(s) and groom(s) are also entitled to 1 day off to assist. All the better to plan that big fat French wedding!
12. Unpaid sabbatical
All Employees, with or without children, are also entitled to a sabbatical of 6 months to 11 months (unpaid) during which time the employer is obliged to keep the position open for the employee.
13. Education subsidies
All employees in France have a right to a Compte personnel de formation (CPF) which is a “personal education account”. Employers pay into the account, and the funds and credits accumulated in account can be used to pay for recognized courses and trainings.
For a full-time employee, an employer contributes around €500/ year, to a maximum of €5000/year. The account belongs to the employee, and moves with the employee if he/she switches jobs or is unemployed. If the employee is on maternity leave or other legally authorized absences, the account continues to accumulate funds.
14. Lunch subsidies
French labor law not only states that French employees should not have lunch at their desks, but also that the employer must provide some sort of restauration and food options.
Alternatively, the employer can offer food vouchers called cheques déjeuner that can be used at nearby restaurants. Many large employers do both, to offer their employees a range of choices.
15. Commuting allowances
Employers are also required to cover a portion of the commuting costs incurred by the employee to get to the office. In Paris, this might mean covering 1/2 the cost of the Parisian metro pass. Other companies might offer free parking, or a subsidy for gas and insurance for commuters.
16. Children’s Back to School leave
The first day back to school can be traumatic for small children. Parents of children in maternelle (pre-school) and primary school are offered the day off for la rentrée (back to school) so that they can accompany their kids on the first day, and be on standby in case of any difficulties.
At pre-school level, school may start on different days if you have multiple children, but parents don’t get multiple days off. On the other hand, both parents are entitled to a day off, regardless of how many children they have.
17. Premium Sunday hours
Sunday is considered to be the “day of rest”, and most shops, restaurants and offices will be closed. Even grocery stores and pharmacies will be closed, with only a handful remaining open in big cities like Paris.
Office workers are banned from going into the office, with French labor laws suggesting fines and jailtimes for CEOs of the companies who ask their employees to work on Sundays.
If a company is authorized to work on Sundays or holidays however (eg. a shop open on Christmas eve, or a football match on a sunday), the employees are required to be a paid a premium on top of their salaries. This premium must be a minimum of 30-50% of their daily/hourly rate, depending on the negotiation between the employer and their unions.
18. Work from Home
Working from home is not common in France, as presenteeism is a large part of the French work culture. It is slowly catching on however, with employers paying a small stipend to employees to cover electricity costs, etc. (This was pre-sanitary crisis.)
These days, health considerations are pushing more people towards télétravail (work from home), but even the government encourages that for mental health reasons, employees go into the office at least once a week.
Unions, employers and government officials are currently renegotiating the amount of stipend that should be paid to employees for longer term work-from-home.
19. Work Council (CE) benefits
Medium and large companies in France must allow the employees to organize a workers’ council, called a Comité d’Entreprise (CE). The CE will liase with the local union associated with that industry, and will usually have members who belong to that union.
Employers are required to fund the CE, and the CE in turn will take that money and buy and distribute advantages to employees such as cheap movie tickets, special discounts at museums and themeparks, etc. Some CEs even offer items like
- discount airfare
- vacation packages
- childcare subsidies for créche (nursery)
- camp fees for kids
- other products and services
Generally, the larger the employer, the more money will Comité d’Entreprise will have to distribute. Firms pay a subsidy of at least 0.2% of gross payroll, but most will be higher after union negotiation.
20. Christmas benefits
One of the benefits that I have mixed feelings about are the benefits organized by the Workers’ council (CE° for Christmas. Most companies’ CE usually offer cheque cadeau at the end of the year, which are gift certificates that can be used in a variety of stores across France. They look like a little chequebook with “checks” in amounts of €10 and €20 each.
The issue I had with it is that they are usually offered to the employee (usually around €150), as well as each child under 18 that employee has (around €50). Basically, the more children the employee has, the more money they get.
I will note that the anglophone in me finds this quite unfair to people who cannot have or do not want children. It strikes me that this is benefit related to employment and there should be no relation to your reproductive capabilities. Now, I will state that this very much depends on the workers’ council, but in my experience among friends and family, this distinction is common.
In addition, most large firms workers’ councils organize events at places like Disneyland Paris or Parc Asterix for Christmas, with entertainment and food for families. Yes, families, as in you don’t get to go if you don’t have children.
So to summarize, if you don’t have children in France, you may not be not invited to the big office christmas event and only get 1 set of cheque cadeau. You can read about other benefits families in France get here.
21. Right to disconnect
The Droit à la déconnexion law or (right to disconnect) was made into law to allow employees to manage a work-life balance, while combating the risks of burnout. Employees must have the option of not connecting to digital tools and not being contacted by their employer outside of their working time (paid vacation, public holidays, weekends, evenings, etc.)
In practical terms, if an employee is going to Thailand on a 3 week holiday, he/she is not required to take their phone or computer to connect. And in essence, this rule is usually followed, unless the person is a director or in the C-Suite. Nobody is indispensable, you know 😉
22. Firing an employee
And finally, if an employee is a holder of a particular status called the contrat de travail à durée indéterminée (CDI), he/she is very very difficult to fire. The unions get involved, the govt agencies get involved, and more often than not, the court systems.
So I don’t know if you can call this a benefit of living in France, but what usually happens is that the employee is mise en placard or put in a closet, instead of being fired. They continue to receive their salary, for doing tasks of little or no value, while the company figures out what to do with them. How about them apples!
So are you ready to move to France? If you enjoyed that article, you may enjoy reading more about French business etiquette and about living in Paris (in case you are already packing your bags to make the move). It can be good to be French!
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