Can your boss in France force you to come to work when there’s a strike?

Can your boss in France force you to come to work when there's a strike?
Don't fancy fighting your way through these crowds? What are your options? Photo: AFP
Unlimited strikes throughout France are causing major disruption, especially on public transport, but does that mean you don't have to go to work?

The thought of braving the severely restricted public transport options available on strike days is not an appealing one – but what are the options for employees?

READ ALSO 'Black Monday in Paris' – transport chaos and torrential rain on day 5 of strike

Is this a reason to sack off work entirely?

Sadly no, your employer has the right to expect you to be at work and if you are not in it is up to you to prove that it was genuinely impossible (not merely difficult or uncomfortable) to get to your normal place of work.

In a compact city like Paris which has alternative means of transport such as Vélib' and scooters, this could be difficult.


Do you actually need to be in the office to do your job? Photo: AFP

If you're late in because of the strikes your employers doesn't have the right to take disciplinary action, but they could ask you to work extra hours to make up the time, or forfeit the wages for the time that you were not at work. That's unless you are covered by the collective agreement relative to your job.

What about working from home?

This seems like a reasonable compromise so that work still gets done, but the employee's travel stress is reduced. However, there are a lot of things that need to be thought through.

The first one, obviously, is whether it is possible to do your job remotely. Surgeons, for example, would find it fairly tricky to perform operations from their home.

But if your work is of the nature that it can be done anywhere with an internet connection then remote working (télétravail in French) is possible.

The employer and the employee have to agree in advance that this is what will happen. The employee can refuse to work from home without giving a reason (although this is not the same as refusing to work at all) while the employer can refuse, but must give a reason, explained French employment law specialist Eric Rocheblave.

If your boss refuses your remote working request and you don't show up at the office you could face disciplinary actions or even dismissal, he warned in newspaper Le Parisien.

New employment codes introduced in 2018 mean that there no longer needs to be a change to the employee's contract to allow the occasional day's remote working because of strike action or other reasons.

That said, however, there is still plenty for an employer to think about before they agree to the employee's request.

If you are working at home, your residence becomes your workplace for that day, with all that implies legally. For example, if you fall down your own stairs on a day you are working from home, that will count as a workplace accident and your employer could be liable.

(And let's not forget that a French court ruled that a man who died having sex with a stranger while on a business trip was the victim of a workplace accident, so employer liability can be strict in France). 

There is also the issue of cost compensation – will your company refund you for the cost of the electricity you use while working at home? Will the company provide you with a laptop or are you expected to use your own equipment?

The employer and employee also need to agree in advance the time slots when your boss can contact you with instructions or to monitor your work.

In short, it's complicated and ideally is something that needs to be agreed well in advance so the details can be thrashed out, even if that is not always possible with relatively last-minute events like strikes or extreme weather.

The Montpellier-based lawyer concluded: “Remote working, if not thought of in advance, is a source of litigation.

“That is why the Labour Code provides for a collective agreement or charter, which is supposed to impose safeguards.

“I advise companies that have not implemented remote working until today not to venture into it for tomorrow, but to think about it for the day after tomorrow.”

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