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Working in France For Members

12 reasons to love working in France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
12 reasons to love working in France
Working life in France has its perks. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

With a strong culture of workers' rights and laws in place to cover everything from lunch to days off for moving house, there is a lot to love about being an employee in France.

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We're not going to guarantee that you will love every second of your French working life - all jobs have boring bits, annoying colleagues and unreasonable demands.

But you might enjoy the perks that come with being a staffer in France.

We're talking here about people who are salarié (employed) on a long-term contract (CDI) whether you are full time or part time. Some but not all of the below rights apply to people on a short-term contract (CDD) while those who are interns (stagaires), pigistes (stringers) or freelancers generally don't qualify for most of these.

You'll also be hearing a lot about the convention collective - these are collective agreements that cover either certain sectors (eg journalism) or certain companies. They're agreed between bosses and unions and cover everyone employed in that sector - you can find out how to check your convention HERE

Travel costs

Depending on how you get to work, your company might pay some or even all of your travel costs.

If you take public transport and you pay for a monthly or an annual travel pass, your company must reimburse you for half the cost of the pass - you're not entitled to reimbursement if you buy single tickets or carnets, although some companies will reimburse you. 

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Depending on your convention collective, your employer might also have to contribute to your petrol costs while some companies have begun offering to pay for a bike for employees who cycle to work - as a way to entice new talent.

Healthcare 

If you are registered in the French healthcare system then the State will take care of most of your healthcare expenses. However, most procedures or prescriptions are only reimbursed to a certain amount (for example a standard GP appointment costs €26 and the state reimburses 70 percent).

In order to cover the rest, most people have 'top up' insurance known as a mutuelle. If you are an employee, your employer must pay half of the monthly cost of this - many employers pay the full cost, and some offer family packages that cover your partner and children as well. 

Holidays 

Despite the stereotype that everyone in France takes a full two months off every summer, in fact French annual holiday allowance is only average for Europe. Nevertheless, you will get 25 paid days of holiday per year.

Most employees also get the 11 public holidays per year too (or 13 if you work in Alsace) - those who have to work on a public holiday will get either a day off in lieu, extra money or both (depending on their convention collective).

There are, however, RTT days which can almost double your annual holiday entitlement if you're lucky enough to get them . . .

The 35-hour week

Mention of RTT days brings us neatly to the 35-hour week. 

France's most famous employment policy is, however, not as widespread as you might think. Some entire professions don't qualify for it, while anyone employed at the level of middle manager or above does not qualify.

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Of those who do benefit from it - and they're mostly concentrated in the public sector - most people in fact work a 40-hour week. The average working week in France is 39.6 hours.

However, if you do benefit from the 35-hour work week but you in fact work 40 hours a week, then you are are entitled to take those extra five hours as additional time off, on top of your 25 days of holiday. Over a year, five hours per week works out at roughly an extra 20 days - therefore doubling your holiday allowance.

These extra days are known as RTT or réduction du temps de travail.

EXPLAINED: France's 35-hour week

Lunch

The French tend to get most things right about food (except their aversion to crackers with cheese) and it's the same when it comes to lunch.

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In the UK and the US, lunch often involves running to get a take-away sandwich and a packet of crisps and eating it using one hand while sending those emails you've been meaning to send for ages.

In France it is actually illegal to eat lunch at your desk (technically, anyway) and most workers take a proper break. Some go home and cook a meal - sometimes with their children who come home from school for lunch - others cook a meal in the office kitchen while others go to a local restaurant or café for lunch.

There are plenty of French restaurants that survive on the lunch trade - and they offer two or three-course lunch menus for a good price.

Why do the French take such long lunches?

Canteens

Speaking of lunch, there is also the workplace canteen. If you work at a large company they are obliged to provide either a subsidised canteen or tickets resto (restaurant vouchers).

Not only is the food in workplace canteens subsidised - so it's cheap - don't expect pizza and chips, many workplaces have great canteens that provide freshly-cooked and imaginative meals for staff.

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Job security

You might be advised to avoid mentioning this in the interview, but it is quite hard to get fired in France if you're on a permanent contract.

Naturally, serious misconduct can result in dismissal, but your boss can't fire you simply because they're in a bad mood. Likewise if your company is making redundancies there is a strict procedure to follow. Companies that don't follow the process when firing employees or making them redundant can face stiff penalties in the workplace court.

The flipside of this is that traditionally it has been harder to get a permanent contract in the first place - Emmanuel Macron's reforms (first as economy minister and then president) have made it a little easier for bosses to get rid of staff, and consequently made them more likely to take on employees.

However, compared to countries like the USA, your job is much safer in France. 

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Workplace affairs 

Again, we're not advising that you accept a job purely to try and hook up with your colleagues - but if love does start to blossom across the coffee machine, you won't be sacked for it.

Unlike the US, where companies can mandate no dating between colleagues, in France this is considered part of your private life and therefore none of your boss' business.

It can only become a problem if the relationship is affecting your work, so keep the nauseating pet names for after working hours. 

Workplace romance: The rules for dating colleagues in France

Politeness and 'pots'

While there are always exceptions and rude or grumpy colleagues, French workplace environments are generally polite places.

There is a strong culture of saying at least bonjour to everyone in the morning and bonne soirée or au revoir in the evening (this applies to your building's security guards or cleaners, as well as the people you work alongside every day).

Then there's the workplace 'pot' - an after-work get-together for a few drinks and a chat. These usually take place in the office or the staffroom and are a chance to get to know your colleagues in a more convivial setting. They often take place when a colleague is leaving (pot de départ), when someone new has joined, just before Christmas or the summer holidays, or sometimes for no particular reason.

In fact, French law specifies that alcohol is not allowed in the workplace - apart from wine, beer or cider. This applies to schools as well, although it's only the staff who are allowed a few drinks at the end of the school day. 

More days off

In addition to holidays, there are extra days off you are entitled to for certain life events - there's maternity and paternity leave, obviously, plus sick leave and compassionate leave.

But there are a few extras too - normally your French boss has to give you four days off when you get married, but you are also entitled to a day off if you are getting pacsé (entering a civil partnership), your child is getting married or you are moving house.

READ ALSO These are all the days off you are entitled to in France 

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Right to disconnect

The 'right to disconnect' is often mentioned when talking about French workplaces and it made international headlines when it was introduced in 2017.

In reality it's slightly more limited than it sounds. It's perfectly legal for your boss to phone or email you outside of working hours. However if you do not respond until you are back at work, you cannot be disciplined for that.

Explained: What France's 'right to disconnect' really means

Unemployment

Ideally you won’t arrive in France with the intention of being unemployed, but sometimes these things are out of your control.

And the good news is that least financially you shouldn't be hit too hard. The French unemployment benefits system (chômage) is based on a percentage of your former salary (with a ceiling amount) so for the first few months of unemployment you will probably be getting a monthly amount not too dissimilar to your salary. The idea being that you get a breathing space while you look for a new job.

There are a couple of important caveats, however - one is that you have to have worked in France for at least six months out of the previous 24 in order to qualify for chômage, which can be a problem for foreigners who have recently arrived.

The other caveat is that you pay into this system - a hefty chunk of your monthly salary disappears into prélèvements sociaux (social contributions) including unemployment insurance.

PS It's worth considering that many of these rights were fought for over the years by trade unions, which is why French people tend to be fairly philosophical about the power of unions to create various types of chaos. 

How to stop worrying and learn to love French strikes

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