On Thursday, the Constitutional Council of France delivered a ruling stating that the French Labor Code, which only allows for the accrual of paid leave during sick leave in cases of occupational diseases, does not violate the principles of the Constitution. The French Labor Code is the statutory law that governs employment contracts and labor relations in France.
Despite this decision, it does not negate a recent ruling from the Court of Cassation. The latter states that in accordance with European law, labor law must be modified to allow workers on sick leave to accrue paid leave, regardless of the cause of their absence.
Labor Minister Catherine Vautrin assured in mid-January that France will adhere to European legislation once the Constitutional Council’s ruling has been made known. This commitment indicates France’s readiness to align its labor laws with the broader European framework.
The Council Upholds Principles of Health and Rest Rights
The State representative, in his address to the Council on January 30, proposed that the accumulation of paid leave for employees on sick leave should be capped at four weeks per year. This corresponds to the minimum duration for accruing paid leave at the European level, as compared to five weeks in France. This proposal reflects a desire to harmonize French labor law with European standards.
The Council was asked to rule on two constitutional priority questions (QPC) raised by a former commercial worker. These questions concerned whether two sections of the Labor Code violated the right to health and rest and the principle of equality.
The Council noted that the legislator’s intention was to protect an employee who, due to a work-related accident or illness that led to the suspension of their employment contract, would not also lose their right to paid leave during this time. As a result, the Council dismissed the complaint alleging a breach of the principle of equality before the law.
The Council also dismissed the complaint alleging a violation of the “right to rest” enshrined in the preamble to the 1946 Constitution. This indicates the Council’s stance in defending the rights of employees, as stipulated by the Constitution.
Limitations on Leave Accumulation
Employer representatives defended the existing French legislation before the Council, with the representative from Medef (the largest employer federation in France) estimating that the cost of accruing paid leave during sick leave would be at least 2 billion euros per year. This sum does not include potential back payments that companies might have to make.
In a letter to Medef members in December, its president Patrick Martin indicated that he had secured assurances from the Ministry of Labor. The upcoming compliance law would restrict the accrual of paid leave during periods of illness to four weeks per year. There would also be a right to carry over leave for a period of 15 months, providing more flexibility for employees.
The CGT, a major French trade union, expressed disappointment with the decision, stating that a symbolic censorship would have been a stronger statement. However, they noted that this decision does not alter the rights currently afforded to employees. They emphasized in a press release that the contested sections of the Labor Code have been effectively overturned.