As any organization with employees in France will know, the French Labor Code has a strict requirement that certain documents be written in the French language.
Article L 1321-6 of the French Labor Code provides that any document that outlines an employee’s duties or that contains clauses of which the employee needs to be fully aware in order to carry out his or her job, must be translated into French at the time it is issued. This is the case even if the employee’s native tongue is not French and the document is in the employee’s native language.
In a partial relaxation of this strict requirement, the Supreme Court has held that a document in a foreign language will be enforceable if a French translation was issued within a reasonable period afterwards—and it does not have to be issued at the exact same time as the original.
The Cour de cassation (French Supreme Court) decision involved a case in which an employer had set targets for their employees in English. The wording had the effect of limiting bonus payments. Relying on a Supreme Court decision from 2011, the employees argued that the restrictions on their bonuses should not be imposed because the employer did not issue the French translation at the same time as the English language version.
The Supreme Court specified that as the targets had been published eight days later in French on the company website, the employer could rely on the restrictions.
The takeaway for employers is that despite this partial relaxation of the French language law, if an employer issues a document in English or another foreign language, it should consider issuing a French translation of the document swiftly and, if possible, before the employee starts to act in reliance on the document.
It should be noted that the last paragraph of Article L 1321-6 states that use of French is not applicable to documents intended for individuals based outside of France or received from an individual based abroad. It might seem that this exception releases an employer from its obligation to translate documents when sent from a manager based abroad. However, this exception is rarely applied by French courts and never when the document in question creates obligations for the employee.
Written by Marie Millet-Taunay of Ogletree Deakins