Labour Code covers teleworking
Only 9% of workers in France telework, a relatively low figure compared to other European countries, where the average is 18% across the European Union and 30% in Scandinavia. The government has adopted a plan for developing telework and a law has been passed that introduces provisions for regulating telework within the Labour Code. Nonetheless, there are limitations to the new law of 22 March 2012 and it fails to address important questions posed by this form of employment.
The use of teleworking, or working away from the office by using information technology, has not increased in France despite the transposition into national law of the European Framework agreement on telework (1.36Mb PDF).
This agreement, adopted by the European social partners on 16 July 2002, was incorporated into French legislation by a National interprofessional agreement of 19 July 2005 (in French, 1Mb PDF), and its extension (in French, 63Kb PDF).
Only a few large companies have negotiated teleworking agreements and the example of Renault (FR1009041I), whose 2007 agreement on the issue took the number of teleworkers on its staff past the symbolic 1,000 mark, remains exceptional. Some collective agreements on gender equality have introduced provisions for teleworking, but they have been selective and offer the option of telework for limited periods in the case of events such as childbirth or adoption.
In January 2011, hoping to reverse this trend, the government established a working group on this subject and organised a conference on telework and telecentres (in French, 30Kb PDF) with the support of experts in November 2011.
New plan introduced
At the November conference, the Trade Minister Frédéric Lefebvre presented an action plan for teleworking in small and medium-sized enterprises (in French, 36Kb PDF). The plan comprises three elements:
- clarification and simplification of the legal framework of teleworking;
- promotion of good practice;
- raising awareness of employment opportunities that offer teleworking as a method of employment.
However, it appears that although an attempt was made to clarify and simplify the legal framework for teleworking in the law of 22 March 2012, it has not lived up to its expectations.
Law of 22 March 2012
Teleworking is the subject of only one article (Article 46) within the law of 22 March, which is a large body of legislation concerned with the simplification of the law and administrative burdens.
It was clear that further development of teleworking would require more than a simple amendment to existing law, and a separate bill would be needed to deal with the difficulties posed by this form of work organisation. The Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Paris published a study on boosting teleworking (in French) on 6 October 2011 to this effect.
In response to the efforts of European and French social partners to reach agreements on various issues raised by teleworking, the new regulations were introduced. However, the extent of these regulations is limited and they fail to address the essential questions posed by this form of employment. For example, there is no regulation covering how accidents while teleworking might be dealt with. On the issue of working hours, the law refers to existing collective agreements or, in the absence of these, to agreements made between workers and their employers.
The law of 22 March 2012 rewrites the conventional definition of teleworking and of what makes an employee a teleworker. It also addresses the voluntary character of teleworking, the costs associated with teleworking and issues surrounding the teleworker’s use of equipment. The new law extends the existing legal right of teleworkers to be considered for vacant posts in their company before employers turn to external recruitment. This right is extended to all teleworkers, regardless of whether they were originally recruited as a teleworker.
Limitations of the law
The French collective agreement is more comprehensive than the law and anticipates a period of adaptation, based on the principle of equality between the rights of employees working close to their employer and teleworkers, as there is no comparable provision for this within the law. This principle is outlined in the agreement for civil servants. The law of 22 March 2012 states that there is a ‘common obligation on the employer to respect the rights of workers’.
Another issue that has not been covered by the law is how to protect a worker’s private life and personal data.
The vast majority of companies and their employees are already covered by the interprofessional agreement of 19 July 2005, and as this agreement is more comprehensive than the new law of 22 March 2012, the significance of this cannot be overstated. One clause contained in Article 46 of the new law, permits employers to impose teleworking on their employees in the event of exceptional circumstances such as an epidemic. This rule is new and is one that all employers can enforce.
Teleworking within the civil service
The possibility of civil servants teleworking has been formalised by Article 133 of the law of 12 March 2012 (in French). For the definition of teleworking, this refers to the previously mentioned law of 22 March 2012 on the simplification of the law and easing of administrative procedures. The law of 12 March 2012 states that:
- teleworking is possible if the employee demands it and their head of department agrees;
- teleworking may be terminated at any time, subject to a notice period;
- public officials working from home have the same rights as workers carrying out their duties on the premises of their employer.
This method of working is equally applicable to public sector workers who are not civil servants or magistrates.
Reactions of social partners
As the amendments to the Labour Code are close to the previous national interprofessional agreement, there were just a few reactions from social partners.
Laurent Mahieu, Deputy Secretary of the managerial division of the French Democratic Federation of Labour (CFDT-Cadres), wrote in an article (in French) that a specific law was needed to give legal status to telework, to reassure both companies and employees wishing to introduce this type of work.
However, the managerial division of Force Ouvrière (FO-Cadres) issued a press release (in French, 154Kb PDF) denouncing the measure that allows an employer to impose teleworking on employees in exceptional circumstances. They said it was an infringement of the principle that telework must be voluntary.
Sandrine Jean, IRShare