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French employment law: 5 tips for your CSE meeting

For many HR directors, CEOs or heads of department in multinational organisations, the French CSE - with its feisty union representatives and its plethora of red tape - can be something of a cultural shock.

Here are a few tips to help feel prepared before going in.

French employment law and redundancy: CSE
Meeting with the French CSE can be a cultural shock

1. Book an interpreter

I can’t insist enough on this point. The cultural difference will provide plenty to challenge you, don’t let the language barrier make it worse. Find a French interpreter with experience of CSE consultations who can work on Zoom, Teams or the likes to translate consecutively in both directions and provide a much smoother experience. Plus, it’ll show the CSE representatives that you care enough about what they have to say to hire in some help (in some instances, you’re legally obliged to). You may want also to read my tips for talking through an interpreter.

2. Don't take it personnally

Many of my clients go into CSE meetings with a smile and a friendly attitude and come out with the quiet demeanour of someone who’s just been told off by the headmaster. Passionately defending workers is deeply embedded in French culture, history and law. It influences employment contracts, collective agreements and day-to-day topics. It applies to everything from working hours, pay, holidays, promotions or maternity to ergonomic chairs and the temperature of the workshop. It can lead to strikes, walk-outs and judicial action. And the CSE is the impersonation of all this. It doesn’t get much feistier than a CSE rep trying to save a colleague’s job or salary. It's nothing personal.

3. Put everything in writing

Many of the meetings being held are a legal obligation and, as such, votes must be held, minutes must be written, contracts, offers and policies must be shared. Whether you’re trying to modify the structure of your French business, to update your environmental policy or to make someone redundant, it is likely that the CSE will expect as much detailed information as possible in writing, translated into French if necessary. And if your meeting is a compulsory CSE consultation, you might need to issue a BDESE.

4. Listen, respond, follow up

Despite acting in an advisory role, the CSE can easily get in your way. And believe it or not, they can also be useful. It pays to listen to the comments, to reply as truthfully as possible to the questions (even if it’s just to say that you don’t know), to follow up on your promises. Chances are, if the CSE is asking for more detailed information about something, so will the employees involved so you’ll be saving a lot of time by tidying things up at the earliest stage.

5. Do your homework: get to know french employment law and individual situations

Before the meeting, be sure to familiarise yourself - ideally in consultation with your legal team - with any individual contracts or offers such as a CSP that are likely to be discussed, as well as with the french employment law and collective agreements (*convention collectives) for your business or your industry. It also pays to have an idea of how the CSE works.

FAQ: What does it mean if a CSE meeting is suspended?

When a meeting gets particularly heated, the president of the CSE may “suspend” the meeting before things go too far. A vote by show of hands will confirm that a majority of attendees agree with this course of action and a date and time for the next meeting will then be agreed. This may allow some of the representative to discuss a particular topic or solution outside of the meeting or it may give some extra time to consult with an external expert.

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