In France, every year when springtime comes around, the fact that last year’s paid leave needs to be used up by the end of May and the number of public holidays in May that fall on work days complicates work organisation for companies.
This year, May had 4 public holidays (Wednesday 1 May (Labour Day), Wednesday 8 May (Victory in Europe Day), Thursday 9 May (Ascension Day), and Monday 20 May (Pentecost Monday), 3 of which were ideal for what the French call “bridges” (bridging the gap between a public holiday that falls two days before or after a week-end or another rest day during the week by taking a day off in between to make it an extended long week-end or long week-middle) and even “viaducts” (bridging the gap between a public holiday that falls three days before or after a week-end or another rest day during the week by taking two days off in between to make it a very extended long week-end or long week-middle, some “viaducts” going as far as to include “bridges” as well, meaning that a whole week is not worked).
It is important to know the possible statuses attached to these days.
Public holiday: day that is worked or that is not worked and that is paid?
Day that is not worked?
In principle, employers are free to grant a rest day or to have their staff work on public holidays, except for the 1 May for which specific provisions apply and which is the only day which is mandatorily a paid day off, and except when the applicable collective bargaining agreement lists the public holidays that are legally days off in the firm, in which case employers may not have the employees work on those precise days.
Day that is worked and paid
In the absence of any provision expressly stipulating the right to a rest day on a public holiday, the company is entitled to ask its employees to work on an ordinary bank holiday (excluding 1 May).
An employee who refuses to work on such a day is then “unlawfully absent” justifying stopping their pay or indeed a disciplinary sanction.
Collective bargaining agreements may make provision, in particular, for compensations such as being entitled to twice the hours worked on a public holiday in the form of paid leave (i.e. “time off in lieu”) and/or to financial compensation in the form of a higher hourly rate of pay (e.g. “double time”).
If, during paid leave, a public holiday falls on a day that is normally not worked in the firm, then an extra day of paid leave is allocated. However, such an extra day is not due if the public holiday is usually worked in the firm.
Day that is not worked and that is paid
If a public holiday that is not worked falls on a day that is usually a rest day in the firm, it has no particular affect on the salary and does not entitle the employee to an additional rest day.
When the 1 May falls on a day that should have been worked, the usual salary is maintained regardless of the length of service of the employees.
Pursuant to Article L. 3133-3 of the French Labour Code (Code du travail), when a public holiday, other than 1 May, falls on a day that is normally worked, “not working on public holidays may not lead to any loss of salary for employees having totals of at least 3 month’s length of service in the firm or on the site”.
“Bridges” (“les ponts”)
The “bridge” is the day between a public holiday that is not worked and a weekly rest day or another day that is not worked during the week.
This year, the second week of May has two public holidays back-to-back: Wednesday 8 May and Thursday 9 May. The employer is not bound to grant the “bridge” day of Friday 10 May or the “viaduct” days of Monday 6, Tuesday 7, and Friday 10, even if the majority of the staff so request. It is the employer who decides whether or not to dispense the employees from working on those days.
Pursuant to Article L.3122-27 of the French Labour Code, the employer may require that the hours lost “when one or two business days are taken off between a public holiday and a weekly rest day or when a day is taken off preceding annual leave”, be made up by the employee later in the year.
But it is also possible to shut the site and to force employees to go on paid leave.
If it is the employee who decides to take the “bridge” day off, in principle the employee requests a day’s leave.
Pursuant to Articles L. 3133-7 et seq. of the French Labour Code, employees owe one solidarity day per year which takes the form of an additional day of work (or 7 hours of work) unpaid. That day may thus be:
a public holiday (apart from 1 May): in which case, the employee must work the public holiday or else take a day of paid leave;
an “RTT” day (time off in lieu under the working time reduction scheme based on a 35-hour working week);
or 7 additional hours split up over the year.
The procedures for accomplishing the “solidarity day” are set by company or site agreement or, failing that, by branch agreement. Failing a collective bargaining agreement, it is incumbent on the employer to determine the procedure for accomplishing this solidarity day, after consulting the works committee or, failing that, the staff representatives where such representatives exist.