What are the rules on going back to work after May 11th in France?

What are the rules on going back to work after May 11th in France?
Photo: AFP
As France begins to loosen its strict lockdown from May 11th many people will be going back to work for the first time in almost two months - but things won't be exactly as normal.

Who goes back to work?

Of course many people have been working throughout the lockdown period – essential workers like healthcare staff, supermarket employees and street cleaners – but many more will return as the country starts to loosen its lockdown from Monday, May 11th.

IN DETAIL This is France's plan for loosening its lockdown

But there are some workplaces that will stay closed until at least June including; bars, cafés, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, large museums and tourist attractions, holiday parks and campsites.

People not employed in those industries will start to return, but will find their working days are not the same.

Home working

Anyone who can work from home is asked to continue doing so at least until the start of phase 2 – which begins on June 2nd. 

In Paris the restrictions are likely to be a little stricter under a proposed deal between businesses, local authorities and public transport operators.

City authorities are worried that crowded Metros, buses and trams will make social distancing impossible and are proposing that businesses commit to continue to operate home working wherever possible.

“Together with the State, we propose that 100 percent of employees who are currently home-working should not return to the office during the week of May 11th.

“We want to aim for a target of 90 percent in the second week, then 80 percent until the summer,” said Valérie Pécresse, head of Île-de-France Mobilities. 

In order to enter public transport, employees in Paris may need an attestation from their employer stating that they cannot work from home.

There will be no restrictions on people walking or cycling to work, and the city is creating new temporary cycle lanes in the hopes that fewer people use public transport.

Health and safety measures

All businesses will be required to put in place measures to ensure that employees continue to social distance while at work.

You can read the full protocol for employers here, but among the measures bosses must take are;

  • Ensuring regular handwashing and use of hand gel
  • Regularly disinfect frequently-handled surfaces
  • Ventilate closed rooms every three hours for 15 minutes
  • Ensure physical distancing of at least 1m between employees or 4 square metres per person (so an office of 100 square metres must have no more than 25 employees at a time)

To ensure sufficient distance between employees, companies have been recommended to try measures such as staggered shift times.

Self-employed people must also ensure that their working practices respect the rules.

Employment Minister Muriel Pénicaud told FranceInfo: “The subject is first of all a work organisation issue that must be discussed with the social partners [such as unions] in the company and the employees.

“Measures are certainly binding for companies to put in place.

“I know it is difficult. But what is the alternative? I am not negotiating the health of employees. My role is to protect them.” 


Masks will not be compulsory in all workplaces, but will depend on the situation, added Pénicaud.

She gave the example of hairdressers, who are in close contact with their customers so will have to wear a mask (masks will also be compulsory for customers at hairdressers).

READ ALSO French hairdressers will reopen from May 11th – with strict rules

People in public facing roles and teachers are also likely to need to wear masks.

Public transport

This is a big concern in cities especially Paris, where mayor Anne Hidalgo has already announced plans for extra bike lanes in an attempt to limit public transport use.

Companies will also be encouraged to stagger shift times to avoid too many people using public transport at rush hour.

Masks will be compulsory on all public transport and in Paris, hand gel dispensers will be available in Metro, but and tram stops.

Is is compulsory to go back to work?

There are certain circumstances in which you can stay off work.

High risk groups – if you fall into one of the designated vulnerable groups (aged 65 or over or with a serious underlying health conditions) you are entitled to either work from home or remain off work if you are concerned that returning to work puts you at risk

Childcare – although schools are starting to reopen, it is a very gradual reopening with only a few classes at first so many parents will still be looking after children during the day. If your child's school has not reopened (or your child's year group is one of the ones allowed back) you are entitled to continue claiming the chômage partiel unemployment scheme.

Although sending children back to school is voluntary at first, parents who can send their child to school but choose not to may not be entitled to continue to claim chômage partiel.

READ MORE : Parents in France could lose right to crisis unemployment scheme from June

Home-working – under normal conditions your boss cannot order you to work from home if you don't want to, however part of the emergency legislation on coronavirus means that employers can compel employees to work from home.

Unsafe conditions – as is always the case in France, your employer does not have the right to continue to ask you to work in unsafe conditions.

However if you feel your employer has not brought in sufficient protections you cannot just walk off the job, you need to raise your concerns through formal channels first, usually through a union.

During the lockdown France's Labour Court has ruled that Amazon did not provide sufficient protection to its warehouse and distribution centre employees and ordered them to limit their deliveries to essential items only.



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