French Expression: The Infamous “Mise Au Placard”
Photo by Samantha Hurley

French Expression: The Infamous “Mise Au Placard”

“Mise au Placard” is one of those French expressions for which there is no English equivalent. It literally translates to being “put in the closet”, and is only used in the context of the French workplace.

The reason there is no direct English translation is that the condition leading to being “put in the closet” simply wouldn’t happen with an Anglo-Saxon employer. The person would simply be fired.

With French employers, however, you could be placardizer (slang for mise au placard) in that you continue to go to work and be paid your regular salary, but all your tasks have been reassigned to other people.

If it sounds strange, it is. Why would a French employer continue to pay you for doing nothing? Why wouldn’t they just fire you? Surely it is expensive to pay someone to just hang around and take up space?

This is because, in France, it is very difficult to fire someone. In the public sector, it is practically impossible to fire someone (teachers, administrators, etc), while in the private sector it is less rigorous, but still quite laborious.

Even more interestingly, if the employee belongs to the company’s employee union (comité d’entreprise), he cannot be fired at all, at least not without going through the 7 trials of Hercules.

For the Employer:

The employer has to prove that there was a faute grâve (a serious fault) and in most cases, the fired employee will take the employer to the labor court system known as Prud’hommes. The court systems have been known to impose large fines on companies, award damages, and even be forced to hire back the employees.

Companies sometimes make the calculation that it is cheaper to keep paying the employee until they figure out a solution for getting rid of the person, or can reassign him to something where he can’t cause much damage.

Employees can remain in the closet for years, usually until the company has layoffs in which it can group a large number of people. Group layoffs are are actually easier to process because the company only has to prove economic hardship, rather than get into a back and forth about whether the employee committed a “grave error” or not.

For the employee:

If it sounds beneficial for the employee, to get paid to do nothing, it isn’t. Most French employees dread being placardizer. Becoming redundant and losing their stature, but still having to face your coworkers every day. It becomes quite clear to everybody around if some has been mise au placard, if one day they were the head of their department, and the next day they have lost their entire team.

French newspapers regularly report on employees who have committed suicide after having been put in the cupboard.

So if it is such a dreaded state, it begs the question: why wouldn’t the person just quit?

Well, for the same reasons that the employer didn’t fire the employee in the first place: the employee protections. The protections are so strong that it has made French employees risk-averse.

Employees are loathed to leave that safety net and find new employment, jumping through the hoops of job hunting, interviews, etc.

With French Employers being equally risk-averse to avoid hiring the wrong employee, they tend to be very cautious about hiring someone. Jobs in France can take months to fill, with several rounds of interviews and long trial periods, just to avoid this situation.

☞ READ MORE: Living in Paris: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

And with all that, nobody leaves and you have this very french concept of mise au placard. A very circular system that feeds into itself.

So what do you think? Do you wish you had such strong employee protections in your country? Comment below and let me know.

A bientôt!

¹ Featured Image: Samantha Hurley

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