New job in France? A Guide to the Médecin de Travail

There are certain quirks of French life that you don't cross until you start working. That's when you really get immersed in French culture. Welcome to the Medecin de Travail, otherwise known as the Work Doctor in France.
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It used to be every two years. It was changed in 2018 to every 5 years: employees forced into visiting the bl$%£y French Médecin de Travail.

After moving and settling in, there are certain quirks of French life that you don’t really cross until you start working in France. That’s when you really get immersed in French culture. It was my 2nd day on the job when Human Resources handed me a note and told me I had to go visit the “French Work Doctor”.

Obligatory Doctor visits in France

When you start a new job in France, every new employee has to visit a doctor, even if they don’t want to. It is obligatory (link in french) for both the company and for the employee, and there was no getting out of it. And for someone like me who usually works behind a desk, I thought completely unnecessary. French healthcare is free, but it has few strings attached.

As I mentioned above, it is more often than just when you start a new job. If you make it past your période d’essaie (trial period), you have to go back at regular intervals. It used to be every 2 years until 2018, when French government budget overruns caused it to change to every 5 years.

In addition, after any significant time off (over 30 days), such as pregnancy or illness, you have to visit the Médecin de Travail to be cleared to go back to work.

Your employer will be fined if he does not make you available for these visits during working hours, which is why the Human Resources department takes these appointments so seriously.

The Practicalities

These doctor visits are paid for by the French Government, and take place even if you have your own doctor. I dislike going to doctors in general, so I prefer someone I trust, rather than someone imposed on me. The medical information is confidential and is not passed on to the employer, but this is still annoying.

As an employee, you cannot refuse to go. But you can refuse to do any tests that the doctor wants you to do. Thank goodness for that! For example, you do not have to give any blood or other bodily fluid samples if you do not want to. (I was told by one of the nurses that indeed most people refuse!)

The Types of Questions

So why the special “Work Doctor” visits if the French already have universal healthcare? A French resident can go to the doctor any time they want for free or minimal cost.

The Work doctor, however, is tasked specifically with diagnosing any hazardous working conditions and professional risks in the workplace. In general, if you are in good health (and not coming off of a serious medical event such as pregnancy, surgery, etc), the questions revolve around:

  • commuting time door-to-door,
  • mode of transportation,
  • long hours in repetitive positions such as standing or sitting for long periods of time,
  • possibility of depression,
  • harassment (emotional, physical, etc.),
  • physical job requirements compared to the age of the employee,
  • exposure to harmful substances such as asbestos or other pollutants

If the doctor is not satisfied, he has the right to:

  • ask to see the employee beyond the mandatory examinations.
  • ask that the employee be placed in a new position,
  • place the employee on arrêt maladie where he/she is on leave from work and being paid by the French government.

So whether you are are a carpenter working on a job site, or an accountant working in an office, you can mark the date in your calendar: visit the blo**dy Médecin de Travail. A bientôt!

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