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Simplified health and safety consultation for medium-sized French businesses

FOCUS: Proposed changes to French employment law and to the role of Health, Safety and Working Conditions Committees (HSWCC) within a company will make decision-making simpler for small and medium-sized French companies.07 Oct 2015

HSWCCs are employee representation bodies, designed to protect the health and safety of employees, and any company with more than 50 employees must set one up. As with employee works council, which companies must also establish to represent their employees, the HSWCC must be consulted on some company decisions that will affect workers or have an impact on employment.

The rules to date enabled the HSWCC to hold up decision making in a company by deliberately failing to come to a conclusion on a decision. Without an 'opinion' from the HSWCC, a company would find itself stuck until it gained a court decision allowing it to continue.

If a company decides to close a site, for example, it had to consult with the HSWCC and the works council. The HSWCC will look at aspects such as mental health, or any other health and safety issue relating to the decision. Once the HSWCC gives its opinion, the works council will then go on to give its own opinion, taking into account the HSWCC's opinion, on other employee-related impacts. Nothing further can be done until these two bodies have given their opinion on the impact the closure will have. Until they do so, the company could not systematically go ahead with the process of closing the site.

France's recent Rebsamen law on social dialogue and employment and the Macron law on growth and economic activity have both proposed changes to the rules to avoid these attempts to delay decision-making.

We are waiting on full confirmation of the details when decrees are adopted during the month of November 2015, but it is expected that the HSWCC will now have a little less than one month to give its opinion on a project proposed by its company, so long as it has all of the information it needs "to give an enlighten opinion". If it does not, it will be considered to have "delivered a negative opinion" and the company will be allowed to go ahead. This will allow decisions to be made much more quickly in French business.

In companies with between 50 and 300 employees, the HSWCC function, works council and staff delegates can now be included in a combined Unique Staff Delegation (USD). Instead of having two or three bodies with potentially conflicting agendas, the company can have one USD including the HSWCC that brings together all employee representatives to give opinions on any relevant issues. Internal rules within the USD will also need to be adapted by including its health and safety attributions.

This will have a real impact on French companies with fewer than 300 employees, as it will rationalise the information and consultation processes that have to be followed.

More details will be available later, when the decrees are adopted into French law. However, it is likely that this simplification of the consultation process will have a positive impact on smaller businesses in France.

Paris-based Jean-Sébastien Lipski and Jean-François Rage are employment specialists at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com

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