Workplace romance: The rules around dating colleagues in France

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Workplace romance: The rules around dating colleagues in France
Thinking of starting a romance in the workplace? Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP

France might have a reputation as a place where anything goes when it comes to l'amour, but if you strike up a relationship with a colleague, there are some rules to be observed.


The rules around workplace dating hit the international headlines recently when McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired over a consensual relationship with a colleague.

All countries have different rules on this tricky issue, so will an inter office hook-up land you the sack in France?


Well as you might expect, France takes a slightly more relaxed view on this issue than many other countries, and there is nothing in employment law that prevents you forming a relationship with a colleague.

Employment law expert Eric Rocheblave told French newspaper Le Parisien: "It would seem that the slogan in France is 'love as you want'. Love is a private life and is an individual freedom. You have the right to love your boss, your secretary, your co-worker."

In fact, France goes one step further and has enshrined in its Labour Code that your private and emotional life is none of your employer's business.

Article L1121-1 of the Labour Code, forbids any discrimination based on family or romantic status, and stipulates that "no one may impose restrictions on the rights of persons and on individual and collective freedoms that are not justified by the nature of the task to be performed or proportionate to the intended purpose."

So if your love life is not affecting your work, then it's no-one's business but yours.

The article does state that exceptions are possible, but the company has to be able to justify them. And the simple fact of working for, for example, an American company where the rules are often different would not provide sufficient justification if you work in France and would make the company vulnerable to legal challenge.


Eric Rocheblave added: "Such a ban must be justified and I don't see how a company could do anything to prevent its employees from falling in love."

And French courts have backed this interpretation in case law over the years, including a recent case where the Court of Appeal ruled that an employee who died while having sex with a stranger while on a business trip was the victim of a workplace accident.

The core of the case was the judge's ruling that having sex - even if it's with a pickup you have only just met - is a normal part of everyday life, so this employee's sexual mishap should treated the same as if he had choked on his breakfast or fallen down the stairs while on the business trip.

But before you start putting the moves on that hot colleague that you have been gazing at over the photocopier, you should be aware that there are some rules and restrictions around relationships in the workplace.

Firstly you are required to conduct your relationship with discretion. Kissing, baby talk, nicknames or physical displays of affection need to be kept very much out of the workplace and in your private time.


Secondly if you are in a senior position to your paramour you need to be conscious of the risk of favouritism.

Aurélie Thévenin, a lawyer specialising in labour law at the Paris Bar, warned that: "The most common risk is that of favouritism."

So granting a pay rise of promotion to an employee that you are having a relationship with could be grounds for a disciplinary action unless you can justify your actions.

But clearly these rules are not proving too onerous to French employees - according to an Ipsos study conducted in February 2018, one in seven couples met at work.




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