In France notice of dismissal has to be given in writing, but it is not so simple as that.  The signatory to the notice must also have the appropriate authority, and that is a much smaller population than you might think.  This is not just an issue of form – getting this wrong can cost the employer dearly.

Foreign companies with subsidiaries or branches in France should take particular care as the only people authorised to sign a dismissal letter are essentially “Présidents” and “Directeurs Généraux” (company officers) of limited companies (SA and SAS), “Gérants” in a SARL company, or employees of French entities duly authorised by those company officers. Warning: people who hold Anglo-Saxon job titles such as Vice President, Senior Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, etc., are often notable to validly sign a dismissal letter in France.  A senior-sounding job title is not itself enough to confer the necessary authority.  It is an issue of formal legal status as an appropriate officer, not an impressive-looking business card.

If the signatory of the dismissal letter lacks proper authority, it automatically means the dismissal is treated as being without real and serious cause.  That exposes any company with more than 11 employees to damages of a minimum of 6 months’ remuneration plus reimbursement to the Job Centre for 6 months’ worth of unemployment benefits (if the employee has at least two years’ service).   This sanction applies even if objectively there were good reasons for dismissing the employee and even if the defective dismissal notice is then ratified or replaced by another one signed by someone actually authorised to do so.

For further information or if in doubt, please contact us.

(Decision from the French Supreme Court : cass.soc. 20 January 2015, no. 13-24.181)