Guide to French Government’s Social Measures in Response to COVID-19

April 03, 2020

The French government has recently published a large number of texts and recommendations to help deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This guide brings together the various texts and recommendations published in the field of social law in order to give companies an overview of the mechanisms available to them.


Summary of Provisions


Health and Safety in the Workplace


Employers have an obligation to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and protect the physical and moral health of workers.

Article L. 4121-1 of the Labor Code

Employers must enforce barrier gestures in the workplace and update their unique risk assessment document.

Government Coronavirus Information Site

The government has prescribed a protocol for cleaning and decontamination of workplaces in the event that a case of coronavirus is detected in the company.


If an employee at risk is present in the company (an employee who has been in contact with people who are ill or returning from countries at risk), the employer must take special measures in the workplace (protection of fragile staff, postponement of non-essential meetings, etc.).


The French Labor Code provides that a worker shall immediately alert his/her employer of any work situation that he/she has reasonable grounds to believe presents a serious and imminent danger to his/her life or health and of any defect he/she finds in the protection systems. The worker may withdraw from such a situation. In these circumstances, assessed on a case-by-case basis by case law, the employee has a right of alert and withdrawal.

Article L. 4131 of the Labor Code

According to the administration, the right of withdrawal is aimed at a specific work situation and not at a general pandemic situation; therefore, the existence of an pandemic is not, in itself, sufficient to justify the exercise of the right of withdrawal, provided that the employer has implemented all the measures provided for by the Labor Code and by national recommendations to ensure the protection of workers' health.


Circ. DGT 2009/16 of 3 July 2009


With the entry into stage 3 of the epidemic in France, telework has become imperative for jobs that allow it.


This implementation does not require employee agreement.

Article L. 1222-11 of the Labor Code

Where telework is not possible, the employer must provide the employee with an exemption travel certificate.

Decree No. 2020-260 of 16 March 2020 regulating movements as part of the fight against the spread of the virus COVID-19


Travel certificate sample


Paid Leave and Sick Leave

Exceptionally, the employer may require employees to take paid leave, subject to a notice period of one clear day and a maximum of six working days (a notice period of one month must normally be observed). However, the implementation of this measure requires the adoption of an enterprise agreement or a branch agreement (in the absence of a representative trade union or elected staff representatives, it seems possible to conclude an agreement directly with the employees, according to the modalities provided for by the Labor Code).

Order No. 2020-323 of 25 March 2020 on emergency measures relating to paid leave, working hours, and rest days

An employee who has taken leave but whose vacation plans are cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic is not entitled to request the postponement of his/her leave.


With nurseries and schools closed, parents may be forced to stay at home to look after their children. In such cases, they may be entitled to a compensated work stoppage. The French Health Insurance System has set up a service to enable employers to declare a work stoppage online for these employees. This option is available (1) only to parents who cannot telework, (2) only for children under the age of 16, and (3) only for one of the two parents. If the conditions are met, the employer may not refuse this ruling. The work stoppage shall be compensated without a waiting period.




Work Stoppage Declarations

Working Time

In sectors considered “particularly necessary for the security of the nation or for the continuity of economic and social life” the employer may derogate from the rules on working hours.

Order No. 2020-323 of 25 March 2020 on emergency measures relating to paid leave, working hours and rest days

A decree to be issued will list the sectors in which employees' working hours can be increased. The following derogations are permitted:


(1) The maximum daily working time normally set at 10 hours may be extended to 12 hours.

Article L. 3121-18 of the Labor Code

(2) The maximum daily working time of a night worker normally set at eight hours may be extended to 12 hours, subject to the granting of compensatory rest equal to the amount by which the time provided for in that article is exceeded.

Article L. 3122-6 of the Labor Code

(3) The daily rest period normally set at 11 hours may be reduced to nine consecutive hours, subject to the granting of compensatory rest equal to the duration of the rest that the employee was unable to take.

Article L. 3131-1 of the Labor Code

(4) The maximum weekly duration normally set at 48 hours may be extended to 60 hours.

Article L. 3121-20 of the Labor Code

(5) The weekly working time calculated over any period of 12 consecutive weeks normally fixed at 44 hours may be extended to 48 hours.

Article L. 3121-22 of the Labor code

(6) The weekly working time of a night worker calculated over a period of 12 consecutive weeks, normally set at 40 hours, may be extended to 44 hours.

Article L. 3122-7 of the Labor Code

Furthermore, the employer may also, in these same sectors, derogate from the Sunday rest rule by allocating the weekly rest in rotation. This derogation also applies to undertakings that provide, for the benefit of undertakings in sectors of activity particularly necessary for the security of the nation and the continuity of economic and social life, the benefits necessary for the performance of their main activity.



Partial Unemployment

All companies whose activity is reduced as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic can benefit from the partial unemployment measures.

Website of the Ministry of Labor


Order No. 2020-346 of 27 March 2020 on emergency measures relating to partial activity

All employees can, in principle, be covered by the scheme, including employees on fixed-day contracts and temporary workers (with the exception of employees with a French employment contract but working abroad).

Decree No. 2020-325 of 25 March 2020 on partial activity

The employer must send a prior request for a partial activity authorization to the regional directorate of companies, competition, consumption, labor and employment (DIRECCTE) in the department where the establishment is located.

Partial Activity


Circular DGEFP No. 2013-12 of 12 July 2013

The introduction of short-time working also requires consultation with the CSE, if it exists in the company (the meeting should preferably be held by videoconference). This meeting must be held within two months of the prior request.


An employee in partial unemployment receives an hourly allowance paid by his employer at the normal payroll dates, corresponding to 70% of his gross hourly pay. Employees with a minimum wage or less are compensated at 100%.


The employer is compensated by the state up to 100% of the hourly indemnity paid to the employee, up to a maximum of 4.5 SMIC.


The employer may resort to partial unemployment for a maximum period of 12 months (this period is normally 6 months) and for a maximum of 1,000 hours per employee.


The unemployed hours are taken into account for the calculation of the vesting of holiday pay entitlements.

Article R. 5122-11 of the Labor Code


No specific measures have yet been taken to prohibit or facilitate the economic redundancies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The government has indicated that its objective is to limit redundancies as much as possible and that it wishes to encourage companies to resort to short-time working.


The labor administration must be involved in any economic redundancy in France. In the light of recent government statements, it is likely that the administration will suggest that companies use the tools at their disposal rather than consider redundancies.



Deferral of Maturities and Payment of Social Security Charges

Employers whose URSSAF due date falls on the 15th of the month may defer all or part of the payment of their employee and employer contributions for the due date of March 15, 2020. The payment date of these contributions may be postponed for up to three months. No penalty will be applied.


Website of URSSAF

Bonuses, Incentives and Profit Sharing

By way of derogation from the provisions of the French Labor Code governing the payment of sums due in respect of profit-sharing or incentive schemes, the deadline for payment to beneficiaries or allocation to an employee savings plan or a blocked current account of sums allocated in 2020 under a profit-sharing or incentive scheme has been extended to December 31, 2020.

Order no. 2020-322 of 25 March 2020 temporarily adapting the terms and conditions for the allocation of the additional indemnity provided for in Article L. 1226-1 of the French Labor Code and modifying, on an exceptional basis, the deadlines and terms and conditions for the payment of sums paid under the profit-sharing and incentive schemes


Companies having an optional profit-sharing agreement (intéressement) in place are able to pay a premium of 2,000 euros to each of their employees who continue to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, exempt from social security charges and taxes. The premium (1) can benefit only to employees whose remuneration is below three times the minimum monthly salary (i.e., 1,539.42 x 3 = 4,618.26 euros); (2) should not replace any other remuneration item; and (3) should be paid before August 31, 2020.


The amount of the premium can only be modulated between employees according to the following criteria: (1) remuneration, (2) classification, (3) employees going onsite during the crisis or not, (4) effective presence within the company during the year (homeworking and paid vacation are assimilated as effective presence), and (5) working time.

Order n° 2020-385 of 1 April 2020 modifying the deadline and conditions of payment of the exceptional purchasing power premium

Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. We also have launched a resource page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts.


If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Charles Dauthier
Sabine Smith-Vidal