Now the French office Christmas party all sounds rather like typical office fare (if you celebrate Christmas). There are small plastic trees, stringing up lights, and the odd snack or two with co-workers.
But all is not at it seems. The big difference is who is invited: forget about celebrating the end of the year with your full team of co-workers, generally in France only people with kids are allowed to attend!
No childless co-workers allowed! (Yes, I’m adding multiple exclamation marks because I’m still outraged for my childless friends and for the number of parties I missed before having kids.) And more than that, you actually may not even see your co-workers at the actual party, let alone chat with them.
The Christmas event
To take a step back, the office Christmas events in France are usually organized by a committee of employees, called a Comité social et entreprise (CSE). They are elected by employees and represent the union. All firms with over 11 employees in France are required to have a CSE.
The CSE gets an annual budget from the company and then plans an event like an afternoon at Disney, Parc Asterix, a circus, ice-skating show, Peppa pig or Paw patrol animations, etc. Afterwards there is usually a small goûter with some cakes and pastries, and if the CSE is really feeling generous, champagne.
But to get a ticket to this oh-so-joyful event, you will see a little note: “Vous devez avoir au moins un enfant à charge entre 0 et 18 ans inclus.” Meaning, you have to have at least 1 child between the ages of 0 and 18 years old.
Maybe this is a Parisian area thing, or a mid-to-large company thing, but in general by my very unofficial survey, this practise is commonplace. I’m sure there are some kick-ass young startups in France who doesn’t look at who has how many children for their annual Christmas party, but in my experience this is rare.
You may ask how does the company know if you have a child? Well, you do have to declare any children to HR for supplement health insurance, etc. so little chance of gaming the system there.
Either way once you actually get to the event, it is usually brimming with people wrangling their kids that who has time to try to locate and chat with coworkers anyway?
Cheque cadeaux gift certificates
And, it gets worse. The CSE also distributes Cheques cadeaux (gift certificates) on behalf of the company to its employees at the end of the year. Which sounds nice and all, except not everyone gets the same amount: there is an amount given per employee, and also per child.
So as an example, everyone in the firm may get a €100 gift certificate, but if you have 5 kids, you also can get an amount per child like €50 x 5 kids, for a grand total of €350. Your childless coworker on the other hand gets only €100.
Now you may be wondering, yes governments give benefits to encourage the natality rate in a country, but is that really the job of a private company’s union? Surely people with kids shouldn’t get a bigger “year-end bonus” than those without kids?
The idea on the other side of the argument is that the money is to buy Christmas gifts and events for those who wouldn’t normally be able to go. (Maybe just pay people more?)
Or why then is it not income-based rather than child-based, you may ask? The CSE also knows employee’s incomes because they ask for the employee’s tax notice to calculate other subsidies by income bracket. (If you don’t give it to them, they stick you in the highest bracket, and thus the least subsidized for any other offers and discounts during the year.
I should also note that these gift certificates are specifically given because they are taxfree. In fact the law specifically notes that cheques cadeaux can be given to children as tax free gifts by companies. So this isn’t considered “unequal” at all. I was hard pressed to find any newspaper opinion columns examining this French annual Christmas injustice.
Anyway, for a final note kid-power, during the Christmas school holidays be advised that “employees with kids also usually have priority to get the holidays off.” Vive la jeunesse!
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other French Christmas traditions. A bientôt!