Two recent cases from the French Courts are reviewed in this post, one a sensible relief and the other just frankly terrifying.
First, an employee with more courage than realism claimed that the obligation of confidentiality in his employment contract restricted his freedom to practise his profession, and was therefore void. He was prepared nonetheless to accept that restriction gracefully if he were paid for it separately, i.e. over and above his salary. This argument having failed consistently all the way up the French judicial system, it finally reached the Social Chamber of the Supreme Court last month. Here, both mercifully and unsurprisingly, it failed again. Reasonable obligations of confidentiality in relation to the proprietary and secret information of the employer and its clients and staff do not infringe an employee’s ability to practise his chosen trade, said the Court.
Second, the Court of Appeal in Grenoble has issued a decision in relation to the dismissal for serious misconduct of a bus driver who tested positive in workplace alcohol tests. All the law, the bus company’s internal rules and basic common sense indicate that being able to drive safely and legally should be a fundamental condition of continued employment as a driver. Consequently, failure to turn up sober should surely justify his dismissal. However, the Grenoble Court took the view that because of his age and prior clean record, the driver was entitled to a second chance despite this serious and repeated failure.
It must be right that a prior clean record could be used by an employer as mitigating circumstances if for any reason it did not want to dismiss. But where regulatory requirements and public safety are put under direct threat by the employee’s conduct, it seems more than harsh for the Court to decide that it denies the employer grounds to dismiss at all. It is to be hoped that this decision is the product of facts specific to this case, and not representative of a broader attitude of the French Courts to drink-driving by employees in the course of their duties.