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France and the U.S Labor Laws: Moving Further Apart

France and the United States are sometimes considered to be opposite ends of the regulations spectrum. The United States tends to adopt an outlook of deregulation and free market economics such as the concept of employment at will; while France concentrates on the protection of workers’ rights and on the implementation of a comprehensive labor and employment code.

To illustrate the differences, we look at the amount of ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. This is a metric that does not necessarily accurately define the level of provided protection or regulation of a country’s laws, but can shed some light on the relative amount and complexity of the protections provided.  Currently, France has one of the highest ILO conventions ratification rate at 123 of 185 conventions ratified while the United States has only about 8 conventions ratified. Thus, in general one may conclude that France relies on a heavily regulated labor code while the United States relies on a combination of State and Federal laws as well as a body of common law.

To answer the question of relative labor and employment protections and comparing the two nations, this article we will show that French laws provides significantly more protection in the areas of collective bargaining and individual employment rights including protection in contract formation, dismissal, employer benefits and strikes. In other words, this paper will show that France tends to provide much more protections in almost all facets of labor and employment law.  However, we will also show that the United States significantly supersedes France in the area of Anti-discrimination law: an area which France has been having some difficulty with recently. A discussion of the pertinent laws is now relevant.

Areas of Larger Protections in France

Employer Benefits

It is worth noting that as a matter of law, French employers are required to provide for larger social security benefits than U.S employers and that they contribute “although social security payments are made by employers and employees alike, “a significant portion of contributions is made by employers”. This contrasts the U.S model where both employer and employee provide an equal contribution to social security benefits (SSA Government Website).

Annual Leave starts at a minimum of 5 weeks’ vacation after the first year under French labor code and the employee is restricted to a maximum of 24 consecutive days of leave. Employees are obligated to take 12 consecutive days of leave during the summer season. Employees between the age of 18 and 21 are entitled to 30 days of leave regardless of time served with each employer. U.S Law does not provide specific requirements on vacation or leave but stipulates that some national holidays will be “federal holidays” requiring employers to pay holiday pay to their employees during those days or to close normal business operations during those days.

French employment and labor codes provide for unpaid maternity leave (comparable to the Family Medical Leave Act benefits provided in the United States), paternity leave, business creation leave and educational leave; none of those types of leaves are equivalent to any federal leave requirements in the United States (Blanpain 454). Collective Bargaining agreement usually cannot reduce employee benefits but could increase them.

Wages and Work Hours

Like the U.S, French labor code provides for a minimum wage guaranteed for employees. The minimum wage (Salaire minimum de croissance) is re-evaluated on the first of every July unless the Consumer Price index increases by more 2% or more than it is automatically re-adjusted. Minimum wage in the United States is not re-evaluated regularly and can only be changed by passing new laws by the U.S Congress.

French labor law provides for a 35 hour workweek with a cap of 1600 hours per year. Overtime is allowed to a maximum of 220 hours per year. Permission from labor authorities must be obtained before an employee would be asked to work more hours than the 220 allowed.

Employees are guaranteed a break of 11 hours within a 24 hour period and a minimum weekly break of 24 consecutive hours. U.S federal employment law does not require conditions that carry any similarities with the aforementioned; however, individual state laws tend to require a 50% per hour increase in pay, for hours worked over 40 hours per week. This contrasts the French system which works in a “tiered” method.  Collective bargaining agreement essentially has no authority to modify the workweek or the minimum wage.

Contract Formation and Dismissal

French Labor code does not recognize employment at will but requires the entering by both parties into an employment agreement. Since a strict “employment agreement” is not defined under French code, the agreement is essentially a civil contract and governed by Article 1108 of the French Civil Code. Contract formation is heavily regulated in the French system when compared to the U.S system of employment at will.

Dismissal in France also seems to provide more protections for workers. It is essentially based on 2 concepts: dismissal for personal reasons and dismissal for economic reason. Both type of dismissals require the reason for dismissal to be “just”. Procedural and administrative requirements are in effect for both types of dismissals. That is, employers must follow specific procedures in order to dismiss their employees. These procedures include giving notice, meeting with employee in question prior to dismissal, giving notice for the meeting, making the employee aware of the allegations for dismissal, requiring the employee to work during final notice post meeting or waiving the right for work while continuing to pay employee for the time he/she would’ve served.

Economic reason-based dismissals are essentially centered on the business performance. A detailed discussion of the economic reason would not serve this discussion. Certain type of rights can be waived under Collective bargaining agreements such as the right to notice as long as employees are compensated accordingly

Areas of Larger Protections in the United States

Anti-discrimination

U.S law protects any employee from refusal to hire or dismissal on the ground of Race, Color, Religion, Sex, Disabilities, Pregnancy or National Origin. It is augmented by local and state laws that add specific categories that may or may not include sexual orientation and others. French law, under pressure from the European Unions’ directives has recently incorporated sex-based equal pay laws. Its original anti-discrimination code traces back to 1972 but unlike U.S law it does not recognize group claims to discrimination, corporate responsibility towards discrimination and unintentional and indirect discrimination.

In addition, France did not recognize the need for the creation of an independent government body to deal with discrimination issues.

The U.S however has increased its protections, recognized corporate responsibility by making employers liable for their own discrimination and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to resolve employment issues.

Some Possible Reason for the Divergence

French and U.S labor law have taken very different routes towards their current system of labor and employment laws and regulations. French code has taken the route of strong social justice, fairness and a socialist democratic system that protects workers’ rights above all else; While U.S laws have incrementally added more regulations while protecting the sanctity of employment at will and free market economics.  This divergence could be due to something as simple as the implicit culture and nature of Americans and French citizens. I would not be able to fully quantify the reasons behind this divergence without full knowledge of the histories of each nation.

However, when it comes to protection from discrimination I am able to recognize that the United States is a “melting pot” and has been one since its creation. Until fairly recently in history, France has not had issues of racial equality to demand legal attention for. However, the United States has had a Civil War, partly based on race issues and a Civil Rights movement that demanded equality of treatment, services and other rights.

Because the United States has had these race issues, its equality laws have developed and become more sophisticated in the form of statutory laws as well as common law while French law was pushed behind in this respect.

About The Author
Joseph A.E. Shaheen
Computational Social Scientist. Former Consultant. I fought ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in my own way. Livin' life in Washington, DC

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