Two recent laws have been introduced in France to strengthen the fight against sexual harassment and sexist behavior (Loi “Avenir professionnel” of September 5, 2018, n°2018-771 and Loi sur les violences sexistes et sexuelles of August 3, 2018, n°2018-703).
The first law creates a new criminal offence aimed at street harassment but which could also apply in the workplace. The offence consists of imposing on a person words or conduct with a sexual or sexist connotation, and as a result:
- Violating a person’s dignity because of the degrading or humiliating nature of the conduct/words; or
- Creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive situation for the person.
This offence differs from sexual harassment in that only one isolated act (without repetition) is punishable.
Again, while this offence mainly concerns street harassment, it can also apply to an employee guilty of harassment at work, if the victim takes legal action. This offence is punishable by a fine of €750 to €1,500 in the event of aggravating circumstances.
The second law creates new obligations on employers to strengthen their means of tackling sexual harassment and sexist behavior with (i) an obligation to designate someone with responsibility for tackling sexual harassment and sexism (known as a “referent”) and (ii) an obligation to publish their record regarding claims and other contentious actions. These provisions went into effect on January 1, 2019.
- Obligation to designate referents
Companies with at least 250 employees must appoint a referent who is responsible for guiding, informing, and accompanying employees in the company’s efforts against sexual harassment and sexist behavior. In practice, this referent is likely to be appointed from the human resources department.
This obligation also applies to the economic and social committee (or ESC; previously known as the works council), which has to appoint a referent from among its members for the effort against sexual harassment and gender-based behavior. His or her mandate as referent will end concurrently with his or her membership in the ESC. This referent must receive training necessary to carry out his or her mission in terms of health, safety, and working conditions. If there are several ESCs, this provision applies to all of them.
- Obligation to display contentious actions
Under existing law, employers are required to post criminal sanctions applicable in the event of sexual harassment. From now on, they must also post civil and criminal litigation actions relating to sexual harassment as well as a list of the contact details of the relevant authorities and services (the occupational health service, the competent work inspector, the rights defender (“Défenseur des droits”), the referents mentioned above). Employers must post this information at the workplace and premises where hiring takes place.
Written by Marie Millet-Taunay of Ogletree Deakins
© 2019 Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart, P.C.