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When Must a Foreign Company Necessarily Establish a Work Contract in French, Even for a Foreign Employee

Eric Pouliquen's picture
Published: 28/05/18 - Country: France
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The duty to establish a work contract in French is very often ignored by foreign companies. Nevertheless, it may have potential negative consequences.

In effect, since a Law enacted in August 4th 1994, so called “Loi Toubon”, any job offers, work contract, agreement, company’s internal rules, and more generally any document necessary to an employee to perform his job, must be written in French, when said documents have been established in France, and even if the employee is not French and does not perform his job in France.

In other words, if you sign a work contract outside France with your employee, you are free to use any language you want, even if the work contract is performed totally or partially in France (Circulaire du 1er Ministre du 19 mars 1996).

Contrarily, if the work contract has been signed in France, it must be compulsorily written in French, even if you sign a contract with an employee who does not speak French, or who will perform his job outside France; if you don’t do so:

  • You can be condemned to a fine which maximum amount is 750 € per infringement.
  • The work contract written in a foreign language cannot be opposed to your employee, but the latter remains free to oppose it to your company, at his own will.

As an example, they are several cases where employees claimed for the payment of their bonuses for which the contractual clause had not been written in French. In all these cases, the answer of the companies was that commercial goals had not been achieved by the employees and consequently that no bonus had to be paid to them.

In all these cases, French judges have sanctioned constantly such companies, considering that if bonus clauses were not written in French, bonuses had to be entirely paid to the employees, since no lack of achievement of any goal could be opposed to them. The only exception admitted by judges was whenever the bonus clause established in a foreign language had been quickly translated in French after it had been signed (Cass. Soc. 2 avril 2014, n°12-30.191; Cass. Soc. 21 septembre 2017, n°16-20.426; Cass. Soc. 3 mai 2018, n°16-13.736).

Contrarily, if your employee does not understand the work contract that you have established in French, since he is a foreigner and it is not his native language, he is entitled to ask you for a work contract translation at company’s expense. In case of litigation on the interpretation of said work contract which will be both in French and foreign language, the translation will prevail on the French version, if it is more favorable to your employee.

Be aware that the work contract that you will propose to your employee mustn’t only be written in French. It must also comply with French public order labour law disposals.

Too often, foreign companies proceed to a mere translation in French of the work contracts they use in their own native country, and most often work contracts translated into French do not comply with French labour public order law rules and are finally not enforceable towards employees in France.

As a conclusion, the less we can say is that foreign investors must be aware that the advice of native speaking French lawyers is most often useful at the moment where work contracts have to be established in France… 

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Eric Pouliquen's picture

Eric Pouliquen has successively practiced, as legal counsel and then as a lawyer, at Baker & McKenzie, Fidal, Landwell and Lamy Lexel.

In March 2001, he created the firm Willway Avocats.

He is the author of "Influenza Pandemic, what answers human resources?" - special supplement Lamy Social Week of June 29, 2009 and the co-author of "Guide of the BDES" - editions Liaisons Sociales - June 2015.

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