Chômage partiel: What you need to know about France’s crisis unemployment scheme

Chômage partiel: What you need to know about France's crisis unemployment scheme
The French government opened for companies to file for partial unemployment to avoid mass layoffs during the coronavirus crisis lockdown. Photos: AFP
Some 11 million workers in France are currently temporarily or partially unemployed during the lockdown. Here's a look at how the French partial unemployment scheme works and how to access it.

This article is dated and the government has since changed the rules regulating the chômage partiel scheme. Find information about the most recent updates here

With much of France’s economy at a standstill as a result of Covid-19 measures, millions of people are unable to work and 337,000 companies – many in the tourism and leisure sectors – have halted work entirely.

France has unveiled a package of measures that offer support to self-employed people and small businesses.

FIND OUT MORE: Self employed or small business owner in France? This is the help you're entitled to during lockdown

While for employees who either cannot work at all or who have had their hours drastically cut, there is chômage partiel.

From May 1st people who currently signed off work on an arrêt de travail – generally those who either can't work due to childcare reasons as the schools are closed or people who cannot go into work because they are either in quarantine or fall into a vulnerable group – will also be moved onto the chômage partiel system.

The government says this change is because the gradual nature of the lockdown lifting means that many people will continue to work shorter or no hours for some weeks to come.

What is ‘chômage partiel’ and what are the conditions?

This terminology translates into English as “partial unemployment” and refers to situations where companies have to reduce or completely stop their business activities due to company restructuring, a raw materials shortage and other exceptional circumstances such as the current global pandemic.

If a company files for chômage partiel under Article R5122-1 of France’s Labour Code, all employees’ contracts must be suspended and rather than receive a salary, workers receive an indemnity sum.

The employer then receives an allowance from the French state of up to 1,000 hours per year per employee regardless of their position or 100 hours per year per employee if the partial activity is due to the revamp of company installations and buildings.

What workers does it concern?

Only employees on fixed-term contracts – both longterm contracts type CDI or shorter periods of type CDD or CDU or even internships – can get 'partial unemployment' remuneration. Pigistes, freelancers, are not mentioned on the pôle emploi's website dedicated to the coronavirus crisis, however worker's unions have said those working as pigistes also should be considered by the measure.

Prior to the coronavirus crisis, not all employees belonging to a company that filed for chômage partiel would have access to this type of financial protection.

France’s government has now revised the system so that employees on a one-year contract are also included.

“Employees on a daily and hourly rate for a year can now benefit from partial activity benefits in the event of a reduction in their work schedule and in the event of the total closure of the establishment,” France’s Labour Ministry website reads.

However, workers’ remuneration is calculated on the basis of a 35-hour work week, so if their contract allows for more hours, they may end up getting paid less than they should be owed.

Parents  have been warned however that from June 1st they could lose access to the scheme if they stay at home to look after their children.

Does the same apply to seasonal workers in France?

French ski resorts have obviously had to close during lockdown period, leading France’s Ministry of Labour to have already reached an agreement to cover seasonal workers under partial unemployment conditions until April 15th, 2020.

Seasonal workers are entitled to register for normal unemployment benefits during their 'off' season.

How about for au pairs and house workers?

On March 30th a system with the same conditions as France’s technical unemployment was implemented which guaranteed “80 percent of the salary” of au pairs, cleaners, caterers and other house workers in France.

Au pairs agencies have to request the measure and the French state will reimburse them and their employees via Cesu.

The employer is also responsible for declaring the hours worked online and for filling out a specific form, in which they have to specify the lost work hours and the corresponding remuneration.

First the agency must pay 80 percent of the net amount of hours not worked to the au pairs, then the French states will reimburse them with the same amount within 15 days.

Those working from home or odd jobs they find on work platforms online will have to “fill in their declaration on the Cesu or Pajemploi as usual along with an additional form platform for hours not worked”.

In France, there are 600,000 people who work each month as cleaners or carers at someone’s home as well 450,000 childminders taking care of children every day.

What happens to my wages? How much can I expect to be paid?

Your salary is replaced by an indemnity amount which is equivalent to 84 percent of your net remuneration.

For example, a person earning a net monthly salary of €2,000 will receive €1,680 a month during this period, or €320 less.

Any collective agreement you may have through your workplace could bump up your earnings above 84 percent.

“In all cases, a minimum of €8.03 per hour for all workers will be respected, ” France’s Ministry of Labour stressed.

If you’re a high earner there is an upper limit to how much you get. The reimbursement ceiling is set at 4.5 times  the minimum wage (SMIC) which currently stands at €1,219, – meaning that the maximum an employee on chômage partiel can get is €4,607.82 a month.

French officials have estimated the country’s will spend upwards of €8.5 billion in the next two months in remuneration.

What happens to my job after all this is over?

Chômage partiel does not result in the termination or modification of your original employment contract, only its temporary suspension.

This means that you remain linked to your employer and have a valid case in your favour if your employer attempts to sack you.

Can I work for my company or for another company while I’m technically unemployed?

Your employer can’t force you to work whilst also claiming “technical unemployment” benefits. If found guilty of such practices, they would have to reimburse all the benefits back to the State and could face harsh fines and even jail time if found guilty of fraud,

They would also be “forbidden from benefitting from public funds in the field of employment or vocational training for five years max”.

However, if working from home is possible to some extent in your line of work, your employer may want you to carry out tasks on a part-time basis during this period of technical employment. If that's the case, any hours worked should be agreed upon beforehand and scheduled. 

In principle there is nothing to prevent you from working for another company during non-working hours, but you must respect a principle of loyalty towards your original employer, as mentioned in article L1222-1 of France’s Labour Code .

This means that you have to inform your employer if you start another work activity during this period.

You also can’t work for a competitor if your contract contains a non-competition clause. 

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What happens if my contract expires during this period?

If you meet the conditions for unemployment benefits, you can register for Pôle emploi and collect your jobseekers allowance under the “lost contract” clause, French jobseeker’s Agency Pôle emploi says.

What about if my company doesn’t have a business address in France?

The French government is working on extending the chômage partiel eligibility to these workers currently, as is the case for example with Easyjet staff. Sales representatives will also fall under this umbrella. 

Do I have to do anything as an employee to request “partial unemployment”?

It’s up to the employer to take the necessary steps to get partial activity benefits for themselves and their employees, so there's no need for you to be heading down to the unemployment office.

The company has to first request authorisation from their local business directorate.

“In order not to punish companies, France’s Ministry of Labour has decided to give companies 30 days to file their request, with retroactive effect,” the government administration said.

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