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No matter where you work in France, there’s probably a convention collective that applies to your job. And knowing which convention collective applies to you is important, because it will affect almost every aspect of your job until you leave the company.

Here are 9 important things that you should know that you can find out by reading your convention collective:

1) The Période d’Essai

As we already mentioned, if your company wants you to work for a trial period before making you a permanent hire, they have to specify the length of the période d’essai in your contract. Otherwise, it is presumed that you are in a CDI (contrat à durée indéterminée) from the moment you begin working at the company.

Unless something else is specified in the convention collective. In many cases, this document will set guidelines for the length of the periode d’essai, and will indicate whether it can be lengthened. If there’s a universal période d’essai specified in your convention collective, it may apply to you even if it’s not specified in your contract (although it should be). So if there’s no trial period written into your French work contract, be sure to check the convention collective to make sure one doesn’t apply to you anyway;

2) Overtime Compensation

By law, French employers can require their employees to work overtime, and overtime is considered to be anything over 35 hours per week. The limits on working overtime and the financial rewards for doing so, however, can vary based on the convention collective.

French law generally allows for 4 hours of overtime per week to be paid at 125% of your hourly rate. Above that, overtime is paid at 150% of your hourly wage. By law, overtime must be calculated on a weekly basis, meaning that if you work 43 hours in one week and 35 the next, you get paid 4 hours at 125% and 4 hours at 150%, rather than 8 hours at 125%. If your employer tries to average your overtime, by the way, it’s illegal.

In many cases, working overtime also entitles you to comp time later in the year. If you work more than 150 hours or so of overtime (again, this will be specified in your convention collective), each hour of overtime above the 150 entitles you to 1/2 hour of paid comp time. Therefore, if you work at 165 hours of overtime in a given calendar year, you’ll get one additional paid day off (7.5 hours). 165-150=15, 15/2 = 7.5 hours.

But some conventions collectives have more favorable overtime rules, and you should check out what rules apply to you.

3) Vacation Time

French employment law specifies that all employees, no matter what sector they’re in, earn at least 5 weeks of vacation per year, or 2.5 days per month. But again, some conventions collectives are more generous than the French Code du Travail, and you may be entitled to additional vacation time.

4) Calculation of your “Coefficient.”

Hierarchical French companies often assign a “coefficient” to each employee to indicate the employee’s place in the hierarchy. Your coefficient, which should be indicated on your French payslip, determines whether you get the perks of an executive and can even indicate whether you’re eligible for certain promotions within the company. Furthermore, it determines your salary level on the company’s scale, from the lowliest paid assistant to the highest paid executive.

Your coefficient is therefore an important indicator of your job’s prestige and it’s overall rank in the company, and you should know what it is and how to increase your coefficient if you want to advance.

To understand how coefficients are calculated, you’ll want to check your convention collective.

5) Formation professionnelle.

Under French law, every employee is entitled to continuing education in their field, whether this be through workshops, conferences, or courses. Every month, employees accumulate a certain number of DIF – Droit Individuel à la Formation – which indicates the number of hours of education the employee is entitled to. This education, naturally, is paid for by a government fund, which the employer pays into.

If you leave a job without taking any continuing education courses, you’ll take your hours with you, and any continuing education you’d like to do while unemployed, starting a business, or working in a new job will be paid for by the fund. Therefore, you can’t lose any education hours you’ve earned at previous jobs.

To learn how many hours of DIF you earn per month and how you can use your hours, consult your convention collective.

6) How much notice to give if you want to leave your job.

French employment law specifies that employees must give at least one month’s notice before leaving any job, and employers must give the same notice to employees who are being let go.

But the actual amount of notice you are required to give is outlined in your convention collective, and can vary depending on your status in the company (coefficient) and the amount of time you’ve worked there. Some conventions collectives require you to give more notice the longer you’ve been with a company. In my former firm, the convention collective specified that employees who have been working less than one year gave one month’s notice, two years gave 2 months’ notice, and 3 or more years, 3 months’ notice.

Before you start applying or interviewing for new jobs, then, consult your convention collective to know how much notice you have to give to your current employer. And, of course, note that these rules may not apply if you have a CDD (contrat à durée déterminée).

7) Marriage, maternity and bereavement leave.

When I got married in 2011, I was surprised to find out that the convention collective awarded me 4 extra days of vacation time to be taken for the wedding. The convention collective will also specify the company’s minimum maternity and bereavement leave.

In France, maternity leave is a minimum of 16 weeks for one child, with a stipend paid by the caisse de la sécurité sociale, meaning that women get some payment during their leave. Some conventions collectives provide additional leave, or specify an additional stipend that the mother can receive during her time off.

Paternity leave, while much shorter, can also be specified in the convention collective.

Finally, employees who lose a member of their immediate family are entitled to 1-2 days bereavement, depending on the relationship. This is also outlined in the convention collective.

Of course, large companies may be more generous than the convention collective for some of these policies, and you should also check your employee handbook for more information.

8) Travel.

Most employees aren’t required to travel for their jobs, but if they are, the conditions for travel will be outlined in the convention collective.

This will include the amount of additional compensation you’ll earn for being sent away, any comp time you may earn, and what the company will pay for while you’re traveling. It could also include details about health insurance (if you’re traveling for an extended period of time) as well as whether you can bring family members with you or fly business class.

These amounts may vary based on whether you’re traveling within France, in Europe, or internationally.

If your job requires you to travel, check the convention collective to know your rights.

9) Benefits for loyalty to the company

If you stay with a company for a long time, you may earn extra vacation time and raises that are specified in the convention collective.

Where I used to work, employees earned one extra day of vacation time after 5 years of service, and additional vacation days every three years. So if you’re approaching an anniversary with the company, check to see if you’ve earned any extra perks.

What’s in your convention collective? Have you read it?

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