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French workers who walk off the job will no longer be eligible for unemployment

The Local France
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French workers who walk off the job will no longer be eligible for unemployment
People visiting the stand of French Pole Emploi employment agency at a employment fair in Lille. (Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP)

French workers will no longer be able access unemployment benefits after walking off the job, according to a new statute that went into effect on Tuesday.

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As of Tuesday, French workers who simply stop showing up for work will no longer be able to access unemployment benefits, according to a new statute added in France's Journal Officiel.

Previously, workers who did an abandon de poste (choosing to stop attending work without giving any notice to their employer) could benefit from chômage. Now, however, they will be considered to have resigned, which means accessing unemployment benefits is more difficult.

According to the previous system, if an employee were to leave their work for an extended period of time without authorisation then they could have been dismissed for "serious misconduct". This meant that the employee in question would have the right to claim unemployment benefits, as the legal system saw them as having lost their job involuntarily.

The new decree is part of recent reforms to France's unemployment system voted on in December 2022.

It will not apply to those who leave their jobs without authorisation due to medical reasons, or after the death of a loved one. Additionally, the 'right of withdrawal' still applies - when the employee has reasonable grounds to believe the employment situation presents a serious and imminent danger to their life or health.

In practical terms, the employer will notify the employee via formal notice asking for justification for their absence and requesting that they return to work. If the employee fails to respond or does not offer justification, then it is presumed that they have resigned and therefore cannot access unemployment benefits.

READ MORE: Reader question: How long can I stay in France after losing my job?

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must have been employed in France for at least six months out of the last 24 months (or 36 months if you were older than 53 at the end of your last employment contract).

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In the majority of cases, you must have involuntarily lost your job - whether your former employer cited personal or economic reasons, or have had a CDD (short term contract) that ended without renewal. If you lost your job because you were licencié due to a fault of your own (fired or sacked - even for 'serious misconduct'), then you can still apply for unemployment benefits in France, according to Pôle Emploi.

There are some exceptions to the requirement where you must have involuntarily lost your job - if you decided to leave but you negotiated a rupture conventionnelle -an agreement to leave - with your former employer or if your leaving is considered 'legitimate' (eg following your partner to a new location for professional reasons).

However, the new change in the legal approach to an abandon de poste means that workers who may have stopped showing up to their jobs, with hopes of qualifying for unemployment benefits afterwards, will no longer be able to do so because of the presumption of a voluntary resignation.

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In 2022, according to the French ministry of work, 71 percent of dismissals for 'serious misconduct' were related to an abandon de poste.

However, Maître Michèle Bauer, an attorney in labour law, told Le Parisien that this statistic is misleading, as it "does not tell us in how many cases the abandonment of the job was negotiated between the employer and the employee".

In this way, an abandon de poste might be viewed similarly to the rupture conventionnelle, which is when a permanent contract is terminated via mutual consent between the employee and employer which allowed the employee to access unemployment benefits afterwards. However, there is no obligation for the employer to pay a severance package to the employee with an abandon de poste.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What you should know if you want to quit your job in France

As such, some employers and employees may have negotiated an abandon de poste so that the employee could receive unemployment benefits, while the employer could avoid the costs of a severance package.

Legal experts, like Maître Bauer, have taken issue with the new ruling, telling Le Parisien that the new statute has made it "unclear whether the employer still has the right to dismiss the employee for the 'serious misconduct' of an abandon de poste despite the presumption of resignation".

"This change is not as simple as reminding people they cannot get unemployment benefits if they stop attending their job. It is not as simple as that. Employees are just going to be terrified to leave their jobs", Bauer told Le Parisien.

READ MORE: Key points: The French unemployment reforms foreign workers should know about

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