France: Donation of leave to employees with seriously ill children

Certain French companies have traditionally allowed employees to donate some of their leave to colleagues with seriously ill children. This tradition is sometimes implemented informally and sometimes enshrined in a company-level labour agreement. The French National Assembly has now passed a law providing a framework for companies to manage this practice.

Legislation allows employees to donate their days off

On 30 April 2014 the French National Assembly adopted a law enabling employees to gift their days off to a parent of a seriously ill child. The law, which became effective on 11 May 2014, provides a framework for companies which have traditionally followed this practice. 

Background

As highlighted in a parliamentary report on the proposal to allow the donation of leave to colleagues (in French), about 1,500 children in France are undergoing terminal care at any one time, but the existing legislative arrangements do not make it easy for their working parents to stay with them. One parliamentarian was inspired to present the bill after employees of the mineral water company Badoit banded together in 2010 to support a colleague whose 11-year-old son had been diagnosed with cancer, so that the father could be with the child throughout treatment. Employees anonymously donated leave days or overtime hours. A total of 170 hours were collected and credited to the employee, who was able to take leave and still be paid. The aim of the legislation inspired by this event was to allow parents to give their full attention to a seriously ill child without giving up pay.

Existing provisions

Legislation did already exist to permit leave in this type of situation. The Labour Code (Art. L. 1225-61) provided for three days’ unpaid leave for the parent of a sick child (although leave was sometimes paid if the provisions of a collective agreement covered this). It also set out conditions under which leave could be taken for family support (Labour Code, Art. L. 3142-24), where the leave entitlement can be renewed after three months, up to a maximum entitlement of 12 months over the whole working life. The code also provided for paid family solidarity leave of three months, renewable once (Labour Code, Art. L. 3142-16). Legislation also provided for compensation for 21 days’ absence from work of up to about €50 per day; and leave for parental presence (Labour Code, Art. L. 1225-62) which can last up to 14 months but with a daily allowance for parental presence of about €50 per day.

However, the parliamentary report acknowledges that these various provisions do not always support the household fully during the stressful time of a child’s illness.

Main measures of the new law

Under the new law, Law No. 2014-459 of May 9, 2014 for the gifting of days off to a parent of a seriously ill child (in French), all employees of all companies, regardless of their size, can donate days off if their employer agrees. No special requirements are imposed except that the leave donated should already have been accrued by the donor. A decree has yet to specify how this new law will apply to military personnel.

An employee may waive all or part of their days off. This includes all types of time off, including days of reduced working time (RTT) offered by the company, days off and paid leave, provided that employees retain at least four weeks of paid leave. The law requires that employees donate their days off anonymously and the employer can not disclose their identity. Earnings are allocated to employees of the company who are caring for a sick child. The child must be under 20 years of age with an illness, disability or injuries of such severity that the constant presence of the parent is required. A medical certificate must be produced to confirm the illness. During the period of absence, the employee retains his or her salary and the benefit of all the advantages acquired before their departure. This leave is considered as a period of actual work for the determination of seniority rights for the employees concerned.

Company-level agreements with leave donation arrangements

In practice, in businesses where a leave donation arrangement has been created by a collective agreement, the social partners limit the number of days that an individual employee can give to other employees each year. At PSA Peugeot-Citroën Automobile, the number is limited to five a year and at property company Paris Habitat the limit is 10 days. Animal health company Merial allows the gift of a single day off per year per employee.

At Peugeot-Citroën the agreement established a solidarity fund that collects donations and days off given by managers (100 days available at the initial launch, and 50 days per year for the following two years). Within the Casino group, any employee may pay days off into a caregivers’ leave plan. The management of Paris Habitat adds extra leave days to the period of leave requested by an employee. Agreements also provide a maximum number of days off that can be taken (20 days at Peugeot Citroen and Merial, 60 days at Paris Habitat). At Merial, the agreement allows any employee who must care for their seriously ill child to take 20 days’ leave, paid at 75%. The use of donated days off starts only once this 20-day period is up. 

Social partner responses

The government was initially reluctant to act because it saw no need to legislate in this area. However, the law was broadly supported by the social partners. Most of the existing company-level leave donation agreements were supported by all the relevant unions.

The French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC) expressed satisfaction, saying in a press release that the adoption of the new law would provide a better balance between private and professional life (in French). But the CFTC believes that ‘the gift of hours should not be limited to this single scenario’. The French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) describes the new law as ‘real progress’ (in French).

Commentary

This law is widely supported by workers because it promotes solidarity among co-workers and ameliorates a painful situation for parents with critically ill children. Its advantage is that it was developed from a bottom-up approach based on practice before being translated into legislation that provides a general framework for the donation of leave.

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