Having lived here for almost five years now, the “Paris Firsts” (new Parisian experiences) that dominated my first few years of French life have become few and far between, so it is rather disconcerting to find myself in a phase of my life which incorporates not just one Paris First (PF), but many, often on a daily basis. And why? Because I am unemployed. That’s right, I am now just another casualty of the financial crisis or “la crise.” At the beginning of 2013 my company reviewed their budgets, decided to make some cuts and voilà, expat au chômage (unemployed).
And so that set in motion a whole new wave of PFs for me: redundancy in France, negotiating severance pay with the director (be prepared to play hardball!), signing on at the Pôle Emploi (like the dole office) and job hunting without the security of a current job.
Whilst the situation was not entirely unexpected, it’s naturally not a nice predicament to find yourself in and, knowing next to nothing about the redundancy system here, I found myself feeling for the first time since my first year in Paris, a bit lost. I was once again floundering in the bewildering world of French bureaucracy. However, four years does make a difference and this time it wasn’t just me alone versus the system, it was me, my Frog and friends, and that changes everything.
Conversely to the UK, in France the employee is well protected and as such there is much more wiggle room for negotiation when you’re made redundant, but if you don’t know that (and I didn’t initially) then of course the company will try to use that to their advantage. I was lucky enough to have some very good friends who could give me the information and legal advice I needed to negotiate myself a decent severance cheque. Nevertheless, others are not so lucky and the information and advice you need is not as readily available as it should be. Should you find yourself in a similar situation, here is some useful information:
- Most importantly, do NOT sign anything you don’t completely understand or are not happy with.
- Take time to research and get advice from others before deciding what to do. You have the right to take some time to do this.
- The government website is quite useful for clear(ish) info on redundancy, have a look at the relevant parts of this page http://travail-emploi.gouv.fr/informations-pratiques,89/fiches-pratiques,91/licenciement,121/ and maybe get a French friend to check it out with you in case of any misunderstandings.
- A reason for a “licenciement” (redundancy) is very hard for a company to prove. Legally they are required to check that there is no other position they could offer you within, not just that company, but the entire group (if it’s part of one). This takes a long time and they have to keep paying your salary throughout and there may be legal costs too, so most employers will try to avoid this.
- Since 2008 French employers and employees have the possibility of using a “Rupture Conventionelle” (Mutual end of contract) to terminate a contract. This is a termination that can be initiated by the employer or the employee. It’s a much quicker process, taking only 6 weeks and the employee is still entitled to unemployment pay afterwards. Read more about it here: http://travail-emploi.gouv.fr/informations-pratiques,89/fiches-pratiques,91/rupture-conventionnelle-du-contrat,1208/la-rupture-conventionnelle-du,8383.html
- Employers often suggest a Rupture Conventionelle, instead of a licenciement, to employees they wish to make redundant. The advantage for them is that it takes a lot less time than a redundancy and therefore costs them less. It also means the employee leaves earlier which is better for office morale.
- The advantage for the employee is that they can negotiate a severance cheque. The employer does not want the employee to refuse the rupture and demand a licenciement so are usually willing to negotiate a cheque in order to get the employee to sign the rupture and leave earlier.
- Most companies have a “Delegué du personnel” (an employee representative) who should be able to advise on redundancy procedure and employee rights. Having said this, some are completely useless, it really depends on the person!
- If the compensation (“indemnité”) amount they offer you is the legal minimum (roughly one week’s salary multiplied by the number of years you’ve been at the company) or not much more, NEVER accept it! Negotiate. You’ve got nothing to lose anyway!
- It can be hard finding the confidence to negotiate with a director, even more so in another language, but you feel a lot better having given it your best shot than if you simply accept what’s happening without a fight. Remember, they can’t force you to sign anything you’re not happy with.
Redundancy is hard in any country, but faced with the choice between France and the UK, I know I’m better off here. I know people in London who found themselves unceremoniously dumped on the unemployment pile with nothing more than their salary paid until the end of the month, no negotiation possible. Besides which, trying to survive on the dole in England isn’t something I’d wish on anyone, whereas in France the unemployment benefit is based on a percentage of your previous salary, meaning you get considerably less, but paying your rent, food and the odd glass of vin rouge with friends is definitely feasible. It’s been one of the tougher PFs I’ve had to deal with, but, as with all of them, I learnt a lot and got to know the way the country works a bit better. At the end of the day you have to mark it all up to life and expat experience and just move on to the next thing.