When it comes to the language in which the documents provided to French employees should be drafted, article L. 1321-6 of the French Labor Code (‘FLC’) lays down a general rule : unless they are received from abroad or are provided to a foreign-speaking employee, any document that includes an obligation for the employee or that is necessary for the execution of the employee’s work must be translated in French.
The French Labor Code also provides that the employment contract must always be in French (article L. 1221-3) as well as the internal regulations of the company (Article L. 1321-6).
Failure to provide employees with the necessary information in French could expose the company to the following risks:
- Criminal sanctions – Article R. 1323-1 of the FLC provides that when an employer falls under the obligation to provide a document in French but that he fails to do so, a fourth class fine (which can amount up to750 Euros) can be applied for each non translated document.
- Civil claims – Employees could ask a judge in a summary proceeding to compel the employer to deliver the documents in the appropriate language. Furthermore, any document creating an obligation that binds the employee could be regarded as unenforceable by a judge.
The above-mentioned rule is mainly invoked by employees who challenge the enforceability of bonus/incentive plans. In this regard, the French Supreme Court has issued several decisions related to incentive and bonus plans and has constantly ruled that these plans have to be translated into French in order to be enforced.
Recently the French Supreme Court heard the case of an employee who asked for the backpayment of commissions on the ground that the commission plan was drafted in English. The Court of appeal rejected the employee’s claims as it appeared that English was the common working language in the Company.
Yet, the Supreme Court overruled this decision and determined that the commission plan was not enforceable given that (i.) it was not drafted or translated into French and (ii.) it did not emanate from a foreign entity (FSC, June 7, 2023, n°21-20.322).
As a result, employers should always bear in mind that while English can be the common working language in a company based in France, it does not prevent that same company from providing French employees with documents either drafted or translated in French.