Speak French!

The French Supreme Court, in a ruling dated October 11, 2023, strongly reiterates the fundamental nature of using the French language when establishing any norm applicable to employees.

As a reminder, the French Labor Code provides that “the internal regulations are written in French. They may be accompanied by translations in one or more foreign languages. The same applies to any document containing obligations for the employee or provisions the knowledge of which is necessary for the performance of their work. These provisions are not applicable to documents received from abroad or intended for foreigners” (Art. L. 1321-6 of the French Labor Code).

Based on this Article, the French Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Versailles Court of Appeal which, although noting that “the documents setting the objectives used to determine variable pay were written in English”, ruled that an employee’s claim for back payment of salary was unfounded since “this fact alone could not make the remuneration plans unenforceable against him”. Moreover, the Court of Appeal noted that the employee worked at a “subsidiary of an American company.”

Strictly applying the French Labor Code, the French Supreme Court found that, by ruling this way, while it had noted that the documents determining the contractual variable remuneration were not written in French (and were not received from abroad), the Court of Appeal violated Article L. 1321-6 of the French Labor Code.

This decision confirms the strong position of the French Supreme Court on the use of the French language, particularly in individual employment relationships (FSC, April 2, 2014, No. 12-30.191; FSC, May 3, 2018, No. 16-13.736, FSC, June 7, 2023, No. 21-20.322).

French Supreme Court, Oct. 11, 2023, No. 22-13.770