According to the French Labor Code, any document containing obligations for an employee, or provisions which are necessary for the performance of work, must be drafted in French. Documents drafted in a foreign language are not binding on French employees; however a French employee can refer to them when he deems appropriate.

By way of exception, this rule does not apply to documents provided from abroad or issued to foreigners. French courts typically construe this exception very narrowly, leading to a broad application of the « French-only rule ». However, the French Supreme Court recently held that a variable compensation plan drafted in English is binding on an American employee working in France.

Impact on Employers

This means that compensation plans drafted in English and rolled out in various jurisdictions by global companies do not necessarily need to be translated into French to be binding on non-French employees. However, it is not clear how the « foreign employee » exception would apply in case of a dual citizenship, including French, or when the employee has American citizenship but does not actually speak English fluently.

Practical Tip

In view of these uncertainties, it is strongly recommended to always provide a French translation of any document that the employer wants to be binding on all employees. Absent a French version of a variable compensation plan, for example, the employees, whether French or not, might be able to lodge a claim for a full bonus, whether the targets were achieved or not. To minimise the risk as far as possible, always provide a French translation.

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Weil & Associés (France)

Mathilde Houet-Weil
Tel: 00 33 (0) 1 44 15 98 98