Must French employees really work 35 hours per week?

It is well known that France has a 35-hour working week and that every hour performed in excess of that limit leads to overtime work to be paid with overtime rates. But what foreign employers need to know is that the French Labour code offers several mechanisms to overcome this 35-hour weekly limit.

This article looks at one type of working time arrangement that foreign employers may find of interest in better organising working time rules within their companies.

The rule providing for a maximum duration of 35 hours per week only applies if working time is organised on a weekly basis, which is the default choice provided for by the French Labour code. But employers are allowed to organise working time duration over a period longer than a week. In that case, overtime work is determined at the end of a reference period, the duration of which varies depending on whether such mechanism is implemented via a collective bargaining agreement or not.

During that reference period, the employer is entitled to implement several types of working time arrangements. For example:

1. The employer may organise variation in the working time duration among weeks.

For instance, on the basis of a 4-week reference period, the employer may organise variations as follows:

  • for the first two weeks, the employer may set the weekly working time duration at 40 hours; and
  • for the last two weeks, at 30 hours per week.

At the end of the reference period, employees will have worked 35 hours on average ((40+40+30+30)/4). Thus, no overtime hours need to be paid.

2. The employer may increase the working time above 35hours per week without paying overtime hours at the end of the reference period, by granting rest days.

The employer may grant rest days to compensate the number of hours that would establish overtime hours during the reference period. By granting rest days throughout the reference period, the hours performed in excess of 35 hours per week will be compensated by rest. At the end of the reference period, no overtime hours will thus have to be paid.

As you can see, French working time rules offer a significant amount of leeway in the way employers are allowed to design the working time arrangement that best fits their business.

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