Working

Salaries, working hours and holidays

Salaries (salaires) in contracts are usually stated as annual gross salary (salaire annuel brut). They consist of all benefits, cash and in kind, received in exchange for work carried out.

Salary levels are fixed by agreement between employer and employee at a mutually agreed level. Most companies make extra salary payments in one (or both) of two months (usually December for Christmas and June for Summer). In this case, these extra salaries (called 13th and 14th month's salary) are included in total amount of the annual gross salary. Profit sharing schemes and bonuses bases on productivity or performance are becoming more common in France.

Salaries are usually paid a few days before the end of each month. As an employee, you will normally receive your salary net of deductions (salaire net) for:

  • Compulsory Social Security Chargees: such as CSG (supplementary contribution in aid of the underprivileged) and CRDS (Social Security repayment contribution)
  • Optional charges: such as mutual insurance contributions, pension contributions or life insurance

Obligatory contributions will be around 20-25% of your gross salary. Your salary payments do not have income tax deducted (so don't spend it all at once!). You make a tax declaration and pay your income tax (unlike in many counties where the employer makes deductions automatically).

Some points about salary

  • In France, there is a guaranteed minimum hourly wage called the SMIC (Salaire Minimum Interprofessionnel de Croissance). An employee cannot legally be paid less then this level. The gross SMIC is €7.19 (1/7/2003 - 30/6/2004), from which are taken taxes and social security charges (at this wage level, approximately 23%). The SMIC is reviewed annually on the 1st July.
  • Some professions and types of work are governed by collective agreements. Within these agreements there are normally specifications for minimum salary levels, sick-leave rights and overtime or irregular working hours (such as night work, Sundays and public holidays).
  • Companies are required to engage in annual pay negotiations. Depending on the size of the company and the sector in which it operates, this process may occur in different ways, from individual discussions to trade-union led negotiations.
  • Much legislation exists to promote equal rights in the workplace for women and minorities. This has had a positive effect and France compares well to other EU countries in this area. As in many countries, however, there are still concerns about discrimination and cases of this are not unknown.

Working hours

The legal working hours (Temps de travail) in France is fixed at 35 hours per week. As with many things, this simple statement and the legislation that backs it up is not as simple as it may seem. This controversial framework was introduced in 2000 by a left-wing government, but the Right got into power shortly afterwards and have been busy modifying things. At the moment, the concept as a whole is under threat. The impact on practices in smaller companies has been minimal, especially for white-collar jobs.

The 35-hour rule applies to all employees except those with special working conditions, such as sales representatives, executives, limited liability company managers, caretakers in residential buildings and domestic staff. There are many other exceptions, so the main beneficiaries are blue-collar workers and those in large organisations.

35 hours are not a compulsory maximum for a week's work, but a reference point for the calculation of overtime as all supplementary hours working must be remunerated. Using the legislation as a guide, companies are free to introduce their own practices for working hours or introduce part-time schedules. Some professions and industries make collective agreements.

Overtime payments are usually fixed by collective agreement, but they have to be paid with at least 10% extra/hour. In the case of no other agreement, overtime is paid at 25% extra/hour for the first 8 hours and then at 50% extra/hour. Until the end of 2005 for companies with less than 21 employees in the absence of another agreement, overtime for the first 4 hours is 10% more per hour.

The working week is Monday to Friday. The working day depends on the company, its sector, corporate culture, size and location in France. Working hours are generally from 8:30-9:30 to 17:30-19:00. There is usually an hour for lunch, but there is a trend to taking less lunch and finishing earlier.

The introduction of the 35-hour week has led many companies to be a lot more flexible about working hours. Some have implemented an 8-hour/day schedule with Friday afternoon off, whereas others make 10:00-16:00 standardised working time and leave individuals to organise the rest of their time. Managerial jobs have always tended to be more flexible, with people often starting later in the day (10:00 or later), longer lunches and then finishing 20:00-21:00 or later.

Annual leave (Congés annuels)

France is a great place to work when it comes to holidays and leave. All employees are entitled to two and a half days of paid leave per month worked. This gives basically 5 full weeks of vacation a year (because Saturdays are strangely considered in the calculation as 'working days'), which may be taken either during a specified period or in agreement with the employer (sometimes vacation can be taken only after a full year of employment).

Vacation days are accumulated annually in the period 1st June to 31st May, to then be taken in the following period. Officially, this means that if you start to work on 1st April, you can take only 5 days off in the period 1st June to 31st May (i.e. 2.5 days each for April and May). Five days holiday during the first 14 months of employment! Some employers are flexible on this and this can be a useful thing to get straight when negotiating terms of employment. Usually, 'flexibility' means days taken 'in advance' ( par anticipation), i.e. they come out of your entitlement in the next period.

The following count as working period: paid leave, leave to compensate for overtime, leave for family reasons, suspension of work due to occupational accidents or illnesses, maternity or paternity leave, adoption leave, training leave and periods of military service.

Employment law dictates certain limitations about how leave can be taken, such as the:

  • number of days of leave taken at one time may not exceed 24 working days
  • employee must take at least 12 working days of main vacation at one time
  • main holiday lasting more than 12 working days may be split up by the employer with the agreement of employees and they are informed with at least one month of prior notice
  • fifth week of leave must be taken separately of main holidays (usually August)

Also, the employees may receive some extra day(s) of leave in case of taking a fraction of the main vacation outside the period between 1 May-31 October: one extra day if this fraction lasts 3-5 days and two extra days if this fraction lasts 6 or more days.

Traditionally, holidays are taken in August. In France this month is 'sacred' and the country practically comes to a halt (e.g. it's not a good time to be sending CVs!). Some companies officially close and you will find many small shops, restaurants and local service providers shut (outside of tourist areas of course).

In some companies, the adoption of the 35-hour week was managed by introducing longer vacations, which are often referred to as RTT (Réduction du temps de travail).This could be quite significant (e.g. up to 15 days of leave a year!) but the company usually decides when these days can/must be taken. It is often in August, the last week of December, or when the workload in the company is low due to seasonal or other fluctuations. Other companies oblige their employees to take 1-2 days/month of RTT holiday (depending on the allocated number of RTT days/year). RTT days that are not taken within the period may risk being lost.

Some companies (especially large organizations) give additional vacation days depending on how many years the employee has worked for a company (ancienneté) and/or addition days off to be taken during Christmas or Eastern holidays. However, many such privileges today are limited or no longer exist as companies adjust to the shorter working week.

Entitlement to additional days of leave arises in the cases of the birth of child, the death of a close family member, marriage or moving home. The number of days and conditions depends on the employer.

If you have worked for a company for more then three years, you can ask for a year of sabbatical (année sabbatique). This is effectively unpaid leave, but you retain social security coverage and the right to return to your position or an equivalent in the company.

Maternity leave (Congé de maternité)

All mothers have the right to a minimum of sixteen weeks of paid maternity leave. Up to six weeks of the allowance may be taken as prenatal leave ( repos prenatal) which is taken before the estimated birth date ( la date présumé) and the remainder as postnatal leave ( repos postnatal). You can choose to shorten your leave, but eight weeks (six of which are postnatal) are compulsory. After the third child, an employee can ask for longer maternity leave: 8 weeks before the date of birth and 18 after. If the birth date is after the estimated date, the prenatal leave is automatically extended, but the postnatal leave entitlement remains the same.

During maternity leave, employees receive payments from the social security system. Most companies have also collective agreements ( conventions collectives) concerning continuing payment of the salary by the employer during the period of maternity leave.

Paternity leave (Congé de paternité)

All new fathers have the right to paternity leave of 11 days (18 days for twins or more!) Leave must be taken on consecutive days within four months of the birth. The employer must be informed at least one month in advance. This can be combined with the three days of leave given for the birth of a child.

Sick leave (Arrêt de travail pour maladie)

A doctor may prescribe sick leave for an employee by issuing a sick leave form ( un avis d'arrêt de travail). The employee must complete it and send within 48 hours to:

  • the social security agency (sections 1 and 2 of the sick leave form)
  • the employer, or the Pole Emploi office in the case of unemployment (section 3)

Employees on sick leave are obliged:

  • to stop working while receiving sickness benefits
  • to comply with authorised times for leaving the house (specified by the doctor; usually 10:00-12:00 and 16:00-18:00 on all days)
  • to ask for authorisation if wishing to stay in a different residence

Public holidays (Jours fériés)

There are eleven national public holidays in France:

1 January, New Year's Day (Nouvel an, Jour de l'An)
Easter Monday in March or April (Lundi de Pâques)
1 May, Labour Day (Fête de travail)
8 May, aVictory Day - End of Second World War 1945 (Fête de la liberation)
Ascension Thursday, the sixth Thursday after Easter, usually in May (Ascension)
Whit Monday (Pentecost) , the Second Monday after Ascension, in May or June (Pentecôte)
14 July, Bastille Day (Fête Nationale)
15 August, Assumption (Assomption)
1 November, All Saints' Day (Toussaint)
11 November, Armistice 1918 Day (Fête de l'Armistice)
25 December, Christmas Day (Noël)

When national holidays fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, employees are commonly allowed to faire un pont and take Monday or Friday off and make it into a long weekend (many companies close these days).

There are also many school holidays (national and regional) during the year. These can also affect everyday business, and so can be useful to know even if you don't have kids in school.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: